On Wednesday, when the Sharks were heading off from their hotel for a “rest” day of unbridled fun, adventure and adrenalin, one of their number, the forlorn Epi Taione, was heading for the airport for the start of a long journey back home to Durban. Home? He only arrived in Surf City a few weeks ago, and how lonely it is going to be for him while the only folk he knows in Durban are in New Zealand and Australia, writes Mike Greenaway of The Mercury
The Sharks have appealed against Taione’s hefty six-week ban for a head lunge at a Hurricanes player, but, for now, the Tongan’s first Super 14 campaign is practically over, after just 65 minutes (two substitute appearances following his late arrival from Japan midway through the competition). He can play in the semifinals, should the Sharks make it, but will he be picked if he has not played any rugby whatsoever for six weeks? (The ban extends to all levels of rugby.)
Reaction to Taione’s rash method of clearing out a player illegally reaching over a ruck has mostly been vehemently condemned, but at his Sanzar hearing, after hours of examination, discussion and presentations from Dick Muir and Taione, the presiding judge ruled that Taione was not guilty of foul play, but instead had acted recklessly and misguidedly in carrying out his coach’s half-time instruction to halt the Hurricanes’ tactic of clambering over rucks to kill ball.
So why six weeks? And this is where you have to feel sorry for the player, because the judge said Taione’s previous record of foul play was an “aggravating factor” in the decision over the length of the ban. The judge was referring to a six-month ban in 2004 for biting in an English club rugby game.
The judge conceded that the 28-year-old “otherwise was not a persistent offender over a long career and, in the four years since that suspension, had maintained a clean record”.
So why is something that happened four years ago an aggravating factor, particularly when the current issue is not one of foul play, by the judge’s own ruling?
Taione did the time for that crime, but his probation seems to have no end.
Strangely, before announcing the sentence, the judge went out of his way to sing the praises of the Rugby World Cup star.
He said: “Taione’s conduct at the hearing was exemplary and a number of mitigating factors were advanced on his behalf. He was contrite and apologetic for his actions, and recognised he had let down his team and his home union.
“Taione is making a major contribution to the Tongan union, using his own funds in a joint venture between the Tongan Rugby Union and the Tongan government to develop the game and facilities in Tonga. He raised funds for the Tongan team’s Rugby World Cup 2007 campaign and was named one of the five players of that tournament.”
After that praise-singing, the judge further said that he had also taken into account other decided cases involving striking with the head, including the four-week suspension given to the Portuguese player Juan Severino Somoza at Rugby World Cup 2007.
And he then proceeded to give Taione six weeks.
Half of that sentence would seem to be about right, and hopefully the appeal will follow the same lines as Schalk Burger’s at the Rugby World Cup, when his initial suspension was halved on appeal.Tweet