Johannesburg - SANZAR may have deserved a lot of criticism for their judicial system in the past, but on Saturday their new white card was an unqualified success.
There may be tougher and more controversial times ahead for the Southern Hemisphere controlling body, but in this first test case, the speed of the decision and the way it was handled can only be seen as a success which will hopefully continue.
We all know about how lopsided some decisions have been in the past, but when referee Mark Lawrence flashed the white card at Cheetahs vice-captain Andries Strauss after his tip-tackle on Lions captain Wikus van Heerden it was always going to be interesting to see what the outcome would be.
The new plea bargain system came into play - Strauss was informed of the citing and decided through his legal adviser to accept a guilty plea within the four hours stipulated time period and thereby be guaranteed a lesser sentence than if the judiciary took place.
The result was two weeks suspension, a fair result given the tackle was deemed “not intentional” and the player had accepted his guilt.
But SANZAR went a step further, publishing the outcome, ensuring transparency in the process and giving fans a look into the reasons for the sentence.
This can only be a positive move towards the future, where hopefully greater transparency will spill over to its refereeing corps.
For those interested in the reasons, judicial officer Mike Heron summed it up in the paragraphs below, after determining that Strauss had accepted a guilty plea of contravening Law 10.4 (j) Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player’s feet are still off the ground.
“The player is suspended from all forms of the game for a period of two weeks, to and including Sunday, March 11, 2012 (meaning the player misses two scheduled Super Rugby matches),” the judgement read.
Heron said he had considered the concussion to Van Heerden in the sentencing.
“I considered the citing commissioners report, the report from the referee and the match footage. I received an informal medical report by text message, which suggested that the injured player (van Heerden) was unconscious on the field for a few minutes and sustained a concussion. A CT scan at the hospital did not show fractures or bleeding inside the head,” the statement read.
“The injured player was discharged from hospital with residual neurological symptoms assumed to be from bruising. I communicated with the player’s manager and held a conference call with the player’s representative (Stephan Weyers).
“He confirmed the player wished to plead guilty to the citing and wanted to raise mitigating matters. He confirmed that the player had no previous disciplinary matters and that the player was very remorseful.
“He stated that the player had been in contact with the Lions player (Van Heerden) and stated that he had apologised to him. Strauss' understood from Van Heerden directly that his medical condition was as described above and that he would be able to resume playing after the usual stand-down for concussion.
“I determined that the tackle was in breach of 10.4(j) but that it was not executed intentionally - it appeared to me that the player did not intend to drive Van Heerden into the ground, rather having tipped him, he failed to get him to the ground safely.”
But now for the difference, where a guilty plea is given a “discount” on the sentencing.
“As has been stated in previous seasons, these tackles are unacceptable and dangerous. The player, by his admission, immediately accepted that. Taking into account all the circumstances, I am satisfied that the appropriate entry point is lower end, meaning a starting point of three weeks suspension.
“The injury to Van Heerden and the need for deterrent takes the penalty higher by a week. Then applying the full discount for the immediate plea of guilty (25%) and a further week discount for the remorse shown and exemplary character outlined to me by Weyers.
“That results in a penalty of two weeks. The player is therefore suspended from all forms of the game for two weeks, to and including March 11, 2012.”
SANZAR's central video conference judiciary still needs to be tested, but for a trial run, Strauss’s citing has set the tone for a fair and just process ahead.