Exeter Chiefs boss Rob Baxter has hit out at the disciplinary process which has seen two of his top players, Dave Ewers and Sam Skinner, slapped with 4-week bans for dangerous tackles during their most recent fixture with Sale Sharks.
Baxter was left shaking his head at the decisions of the disciplinary panels.
“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “If I’m honest I’m struggling with the whole process and everything about it a little bit. There is a huge amount of inconsistency, a lack of empathy for the players involved in the incidents.
“It is definitely getting to the stage where the players that are currently playing the game need to have – or need to decide through the RPA on how they are going to do it – a lot more input into how the whole process around making laws, how they are refereed, cited etc. The game needs to be about the players who are playing now and it doesn’t feel like that at all.
“There is not a single player, person or coach who does not agree that you have to have a level of protection for the players who are playing the game. I’m talking about physical protection, but you also have to have protection for the players who are playing the game as regards playing the game of rugby and that balance has disappeared.
“There is a huge amount of inconsistency both in the process and in the various scenarios. Only a couple of weeks ago, Luke Cowan-Dickie got a pretty high tackle in front of our posts. Most people would have said it was pretty much direct contact to the jaw which was deemed a rugby incident, not even a penalty, and everyone carries on. The independent match day doctor then forces him to be removed from the field for an HIA for an incident that is not even deemed a penalty, so we have to lose a player to be assessed when it is not even deemed by any official, the TMO, to have had contact with the head.
“That is just one incident and then the two instances last Saturday, you have got a scenario where the referee deems one incident a yellow card because he sees mitigating factors and then the Sam Skinner incident, it’s deemed there is not enough mitigating evidence and so the referee has got one thing completely right but he has got the other incident completely wrong so is the referee right or wrong, is the TMO right or wrong?
“What is happening now from many of these situations is frighteningly inconsistent and there really needs to be a move by the players playing the game to take hold of this a little bit because if you asked a large swathe of the players playing now I don’t think they would agree with what is currently happening.
“None of us is naive not to realise this has come about based on movements by ex-players which is fine, I don’t necessarily have a problem with. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have a say in things because of course they should because they have been playing the game, but the players who are playing the game should also have an equal if not bigger say and at the moment it is something in their hands and I get a growing feeling amongst the players I talk to, not only at this club, that is something not far off happening.
“Dave is 30 now, played international rugby, played numerous Heineken Cup games, Premiership games and in all that time he has never had one card for foul play, not even a yellow let alone a red. Nothing.
“Surely the procedure you go into that and say, listen this guy is clearly not a guy who has been running around and committing foul play and he has played numerous games under the new rules. It’s not like just saying, oh well this is what happens under the new regulations and new guidelines etc, he has played the game under those and not had a problem.
“In my opinion, there is an empathy position that they need to start with, right clearly this guy is not someone who goes around looking to high tackle people. Straight away my thoughts would be we need to look here, see what has created the scenario and what is the empathy side of it, but it’s not done like that.
“It’s just, ah Exeter basically have to try to prove that the citing commissioner is wrong to think this could possibly be upgraded to a red card, so the whole scenario is not based on any empathy to the player. I’m not saying there isn’t a need to look at head contact – of course there is – but there are two sides to every process and it is kind of not feeling like that at the moment.”
“The actual ruling post (the hearing) is not a problem, I understand that. I’m not complaining that the four-week ban should be a different ban, I’m talking about how they actually get found to be guilty in the first place.”