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Rugby World Cup: Authorities should also punish the likes of provocative Pascal Pape

By Neil Francis

Pascal Pape is fast becoming the Thierry Henry to the Irish rugby classes. Ireland got hoodwinked again.

It is not in our rugby culture but it is slowly percolating through the game and pretty much like the action the football authorities took to try and stop players diving, rugby now has to think through moments like Sunday's Pape-Sean O'Brien incident and take decisive action.

If they don't navigate this properly, it will just become a plague on the game.

In terms of a cynic's prerogative, Pape got it spot on. Twenty seconds into the game, he was retreating from an offside position and picked his man carefully. The first minute of a Test match, everyone is pumped - the first bit of contact is definitely a release.

O'Brien wasn't expecting this form of contact. Dutifully obeying the hindmost foot and his eyes on the ball, he has his buttocks felt, and from an offside position Pape - with the ball in the ruck - shunts him nearly a metre back onto the French side.

It was the casual nature of it all. The term cause and effect does not appear in the World Rugby law handbook - the basic principle is that a first event is understood to be responsible for the second.

If Pape hadn't held O'Brien and dragged him back illegally, he wouldn't have got a box for his trouble. It was always Pape's intention to provoke a response, knowing that he had done just enough to get a reaction.

Surely in sport there has to be natural justice and order? A moral principle to the concept of fairness. Why is Pape not in the dock? I tried to look up the word "taliate" in the Oxford Concise dictionary. No such word exists. Retaliate? The glossary is full!

I consider myself to be a right-thinking person and in my view what should have happened was that O'Brien should have had a chance to smash Pape in the chops and the referee to say "play on" and then say to Pape, "Don't let me see you try that again".

Most people reading this piece will have either played or watched rugby at some stage in their life. How is it that we fold and conform to what it says in the law book that in some way the person provoked into retaliation in some way commits a greater crime than the act which elicited the response?

Once there is a reaction, then it seems the cynical perpetrator automatically receives a get-out-of-jail-free card.

On Tuesday, Pape was playing and training with his team-mates. O'Brien had to leave camp and spend the whole day, plus the prep done on Monday, to try and see if there is any justice in the world.

All sorts of other irksome activities are beginning to permeate the game - sledging, feigning injury, milking penalties, cynical fouls. Give them a yellow card - mostly it is just an occupational hazard. Sometimes it's a badge of honour. A yellow card in this case would have been very welcome.

Philippe Saint-André, mostly I suspect to take away from the embarrassment of the loss, launched into a tirade about the TMO. "Why wasn't it acted upon during the game?" Exactly, good point Philippe.

If the TMO had been on the job, O'Brien would have got 10 minutes in the bin and given away the penalty and everyone would be happy. Nigel Owens, citizen of world and pragmatist, might even have got Pape to join O'Brien in the bin.

There has to be justice to take into account the actions of the sledgers, the fakers, the cynics and the cheats. The people who play outside the laws to gain advantage over those whose eyes are on the ball.

The whole affair leaves Ireland in an invidious position. Essentially the win over the French is entirely pyrrhic. For the Argentina game Ireland have lost their top five players of importance and influence, in this order - Paul O'Connell, Jonathan Sexton, Peter O'Mahony, O'Brien, and previously Jared Payne.

It is a catastrophic loss which brings Ireland back from a 60-40 chance to less than 50-50 against Argentina. If O'Brien had been available and continued his form from the French game, you would have still fancied Ireland. All of our leadership is gone and 250 caps worth of experience is on the sideline. Hard to recover from.

We do really have to catch ourselves on when we say that O'Brien will be available for the semi-final. I looked at the RWC website and strangely enough could not see Ireland pencilled in.

We could have glossed over the injuries and lack of depth if O'Brien was available. That Argie back-row, Leonardo Senatore in particular, are good. That could be the difference.

I hope that we have been told the truth about Sexton and that the player recovers.

A great win - but only a pool game. The loss to Ireland of its most important players is unquantifiable. The loss to the integrity of the game more so.

Belfast Telegraph


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