Thursday, 4 July 2013

Tigers Simply Must Appeal Appalling RFU Cock Up

Richard Cockerill’s ban by the RFU yesterday and today’s release of the written judgement is a dark day in the history of justice within the sport. This kangaroo court where the RFU acted as prosecutor, jury and judge has been a travesty of natural justice where settling old scores and showing that “something must be done” has overridden a fair and impartial system.

The RFU case falls apart almost immediately when prosecutor Andrew Green declares that

millions watched the game live on television

Not true. 120,000 watched the game live on ESPN. When the very first paragraph of evidence contains an easily checked howler such as this you have to wonder about the ability to check or develop any of their own evidence.

It then goes onto detail, rather vaguely, the “offensive, inappropriate and unprofessional” language used. Cockerill peppers his language with fuck and fucking, which no one involved with the game batted an eyelid about, the “turning point” is when whilst in full flow of a rant he says “at half time I’m going to tell them (Tigers players) to smash the cunts (Saints players) because they aren’t getting any protection

Where does the implication that telling his players to “smash the cunts” implies illegal play come from? A legal tackle or an aggressive ruck clear out are often regarded as having “smashed” someone. 

Given this was an off the cuff remark in the middle of a longer diatribe about player welfare and the referee’s responsibility to check the TMO I think it is being given undue weight. 

It was a throw away remark designed to emphases the Saints foul play, they had this tactic if you’re not going to do anything about it we’ll do the same. This sentiment is often expressed with regards to the rucks or scrums, after all the referee’s word is law and if that tackle is only a penalty that affects the balance of whether the borderline tackle is worth making or not, it is hardly a controversial coaching tactic especially as Cockerill had no intention to follow it and was merely saying it off the cuff for effect.

We also have the context of this being the 3rd time Flood had been hit without the ball in the first 23 minutes, the similar late tackles occurring in the 2011 Semi Final between the two sides which only stopped when Flood reacted by striking Dylan Hartley and the Calum Clarke incident in the previous season’s LV Cup Final where Clarke snapped Rob Hawkins elbow with an off ball assault.

Cockerill’s point was a threat of illegal play it was saying that if these are the rules you play in Tigers-Saints games then two will play at that game.

The casual TV viewer, 120,000 rather than the millions the RFU claimed, had the benefit of Ben Kay’s dispassionate analysis and several super slow-mo replays, the match officials did not. Given the apparent seriousness of Flood’s injury, a spinal board had been called and Flood had still not moved at this point, becoming extremely angry that the TMO was not called is entirely reasonable.

You’re not human if you don’t react to your captain, your leader and your goal kicker lying unmoving on the turf and the match officials having already blown for a penalty. Some people feel the TMO would have reversed the penalty as Dan Cole’s knee appears to make contact with Flood’s head, however the rules are very clear that no ball = late tackle. Lawes commitment to the tackle probably would have spared him a yellow card and all this unpleasantness would have been avoided entirely.

What Cockerill wanted was his players protected and given that context he was well within his rights to be angry that the TMO wasn’t called on.

Using Dorian West’s comments and the e-mails from angry Saints fans as evidence, as the RFU did, is beyond a farce. Both were angry that their own inspirational captain had, in their view, been wrongly dismissed for dissent and were keen to “get one back” on Cockerill. West had previously escaped censure for verbally abusing Leicester captain Geordan Murphy after the previous year’s LV Cup final. Using the e-mails of an angry mob of fans is such a bad idea I barely know where to start. Now that is an accepted part of the RFU arsenal I expect every Tigers fan to flood the RFU with e-mails every time one of our own is slighted. It is a terrible precedent to set that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

If the RFU want to play at quasi-judicial hearings then they should play at them properly, West’s comments had nothing to do with the matter at hand and shouldn’t have been submitted as evidence.

Using press cuttings is an equally appalling idea. The RFU are meant to be the guardians of the game not meek sycophants who will believe and react to anything they read in the Daily Telegraph. What the press report is not a record of fact it is just a subjective opinion, the panel dismissed Cockerill’s opinion that swearing is no big deal but considered their own subjective opinion, that it is a big deal, as gospel.

Stuart Teerhege, the fourth official, admitted in his evidence that there was no criticism of the match officials and that he did not feel threatened or intimidated. He did not think the language was out of the ordinary, only the idea of “smashing” the opposition if the referee refused to protect the players.

The idea of “taking matters into your own hands” is certainly not new, and in rugby folklore is often celebrated. Think back to the “99” call which, even worse, was to “get your retaliation in first”. But that is just the hypocrisy of the press and rugby public and not Teerhege individually to be fair to the man.

The RFU then submit the Saints fans emails and yet more press cutting comparing Dylan Hartley, who was sent off for persistent criticism of the referee rather than his swearing, and Cockerill. Quite why a separate case for a different offence should be allowed to be entered as evidence is beyond me. Hartley’s offence should have had no bearing on either Cockerill’s guilt or his sentence as they were fundamentally different offences. Hartley questioned the referee’s competence repeatedly on the field of play, whilst Cockerill used what some consider vulgar language in a heated manner.

The document goes rapidly downhill after setting out both the RFU’s and Cockerill’s case. The justification of their ban is equally worrying as it laughable. The RFU claim that Cockerill was “insidious”; this seems to apply motives that just were not there, “insidious” means to progress subtly and gradually with harmful effects.

Whatever Cockerill’s outburst was it certainly wasn’t subtle or gradual. It was an outpouring of passion that many believed was misplaced but to slander Cockerill’s character with claims that this was some form of treachery is bizarre. It later goes on to say that his actions were borne from “genuine concerns for his players”, so which is it? A genuine outburst in frustration and concern or a sly attempt to influence the match officials? It can’t be both surely?

The panel then states that the extent of the TV audience plays a part in its decision, the TV audience that was quoted as millions but was actually barely more than the number of spectators in the stadium. The RFU’s simply made up numbers have been used as a justification for the sanction. I’d love the game to be that popular but the bare facts do not support the assertions of the RFU’s prosecutor.

In terms of the sanction the RFU also used a letter sent to Cockerill in December after he was unhappy with Andrew Small’s lack of a second yellow card against Gloucester despite conceding 7 more scrum penalties after the first card and 4 more after the second warning.

I fail to understand why a, apparently confidential though seemingly not, letter in which Cockerill was not even charged let alone convicted with any offence is used to justify a lack of “respect”. If Cockerill had offended then why not have a hearing then and determine his guilt? This letter was not a ban or even an attempted to ban him, so again the RFU wants to play at the quasi-judicial game without following all the rules.

Equally the tremendous irony of the panel’s massive disrespect to Cockerill’s 30 year career at all levels of rugby in the following sentence is as hilarious as it is offensive:

“Certain of the game’s core values, namely respect, discipline and sportsmanship, seem to us to have passed Mr. Cockerill by”.

Cockerill was never sent off or even cited in his playing career and his teams have always had tremendous disciplinary records rarely straying from the cleanest end of the disciplinary pool.

Actions speak louder than swearwords.

The irony-ometer is once again off the scale when the panel declares that:

“If subjectively he feels entitled to behave in this manner, that appears to be enough justification for him to do so”

The obvious counterpoint seems to be that the panel’s subjective assessment that he isn’t entitled is enough to ban him.

There are no examples in the law book as to what is or isn’t offensive language or unprofessional behaviour so there is no objective measure on which to judge Cockerill.

The fact the 4th Official wasn’t offended means the language wasn’t offensive, case closed, the fact he wasn’t surprised and several “fly on the wall” documentaries, going back to 1997 at least, show similar language means it isn’t unprofessional. Fuck and cunt are clearly normal words in the professional rugby environment.

The panel has fallen into the trap of using its own world as a barometer of taste and decency rather than the world in which professional rugby inhabits. This language was not out of the ordinary and there was no abuse of a match official. Tigers simply must appeal this disastrous verdict and the dangerous precedents as far as natural justice within the game it sets out.

Full Judgement Here


  1. Urgh. Drivel.

  2. What time does your nurse arrive?

  3. No point in an appeal, the RFU are never going to agree that the language Cockers admits using is appropriate no matter how common place it is. They apply the same standards from the top to the bottom of the game, and they need to stand up for officials that travel to junior rugby clubs and could be intimidated by such language.

    That 'they're all doing it' has not and never will be an acceptable defence to any accusation.

    Having said that, they are all doing it, and the sanctimonious clap trap from other clubs fans is a hidden microphone by their coaches away from exploding all over their faces. The sentence is ridiculously harsh for the crime but so was Dean Ryan's, it is a crime that the RFU clearly take very seriously.

  4. Thanks. A fantastic and well reasoned article.

  5. Looks like an appeal is on:

    I think there's a difference between using a swear word in a sentence and swearing at an official but if this is how they are going to police the rule let's just look for fairness going forwards!