How did they miss this?

Zelím Nel

SANZAAR finally hit the bulls-eye with their disciplinary process, but then wrecked that good work by sending a dart into the floor.

Context-based officiating has plagued rugby’s disciplinary process for decades. When a big bloke tumbles a wee fella with a tackle that’s above the waist, the ref clenches his whistle and the AR hisses “looked high to me” into his mic. But when the roles are reversed, the attitude seems to be “ag man, the big oke can take it”.

How the jumper lands should have no impact on the sanction against a player who has clattered into his counterpart under a high ball. Aside from the fact that this approach actively incentivises simulation (you know, the attribute of soccer that we all wish was in rugby), it attempts to turn the referee into a biokineticist-slash-psychologist.

As if having to judge the imaginary lines on the field, and the direction of the passer’s hands 1000 times in 36 minutes of play wasn’t enough, let’s also have the bloke with his shorts pulled up high decide whether the fullback landed on his humerus or his scapular…

And that’s why I was initially extremely chuffed when Akker van der Merwe and Schalk Brits were both red-carded for a punch-up at Kings Park on Saturday. For once, the ref wasn’t taking into account each player’s star sign or favourite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. He saw punches; he flashed red. Good.

And then the disciplinary process backed up this objective decision by suspending Van der Merwe for three weeks and Brits for four, influenced by previous ‘striking offences’.

Those sanctions are brilliant. Two players got punchy, they were red-carded, and the one who is a repeat offender got the heavier sentence. Except that the whole review process somehow missed the act of dangerous, foul play that sparked the incident.

It was obvious to everybody not on the SANZAAR payroll that the bell sounded for Round One after the Sharks hooker led with his head in cleaning out Brits.

Despite working hard since his return to SA to earn his Nice Guy badge, Brits instinctively lashed out and then couldn’t smile his way out of a rumble with the Angry Warthog.

Mike Fraser, his assistants and the TMO poured over the slow motion footage. None of them saw Van der Merwe lead with his head. “Blue 2 started it,” said the Kiwi ref.

The citing commissioner and the assistant citing commissioner also missed the transgression live and on the big screen.

“For us, we couldn’t bring the perceived headbutt into account, or rule on who may have instigated the matter,” Stefan Terblanche, a member of the SANZAAR foul play committee that reviewed the footage, told SA Rugby Magazine. “I can see why people see it the way they do, but sometimes they don’t understand the intricacies of the rules that we are bound by.”

“Akker van der Merwe headbutts him,” commentator Joel Stransky said when presented with the first action replay after the incident on Saturday. Four match officials and two citing commissioners didn’t see it in multiple replays on the day.


- Zelim Nel

Let's chat

  • Johan

    They didn’t miss it:

    For Brits’ hearing:
    “However, taking into account mitigating factors including the Player’s demonstrated remorse, extensive experience, the fact the Player’s actions were in self-defence and the Player has pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity, the Judicial Committee reduced the suspension by 2 weeks.

    “The Judicial Committee was conscious of the fact that the Player was not the instigator of the incident, but due to the Player’s previous two periods of suspension for striking offences, the Judicial Committee were unable to provide the full 50% discount for the sanction. This leads to a sanction of 4 weeks.”

    For Akker:
    “However, taking into account mitigating factors including the player’s good judicial record and the fact the player has pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity, the Foul Play Review Committee reduced the suspension to three weeks.”

    • Chris

      By their definition, every cleanout should get a card. Are they supposed to run ass first into a cleanout now ?
      Its not about “leading with your head” . Its whether or not your arms are involved and leading or are your shoulder goin in first. The head is always going to be there.

      • Barry

        Agreed Chris, it is an artful act of lying flat on top of support players and slowing down the ball, such that only your head and shoulders are vulnerable. You have two options, either clean out on the shoulders, or allow your ball to be slowed down!

        Much has been said about the players, but surely criticism must also rest with the touch judge and ref. There was no initial call of advantage for slowing down the ball. Had this happened, the whole event may have been avoided!

    • John Comyn

      “due to the Player’s previous two periods of suspension for striking offences” Brits has been playing pro rugby for at least 15 years. How long has Akker? Does that mean Akker will have a criminal record for the rest of his career.

      • Wesley

        Schalk’s first incident of punching was in 2013, last one before this was 2016. Hardly a long time ago. Seems he needs to get a punch in every 3 years to keep that smile going.

      • Barry

        That’s how the law works John!

  • Johan

    When I opened the article I was expecting a complaint about Nanai’s elbow to Leyds’ face.

    But as Lee Davidse said on twitter: “The rules are clearly different for New Zealand teams and their visitors.”
    We don’t even complain about that anymore.

    • Barry

      I agree with you Johan, I am not entirely familiar with Citing processes, but as I understand it team management can refer issues to the Citing Commissioner. I wonder if we are being turned down, or whether we are jut not following through when we think we have a case?

    • Chris

      Interesting how the NZ TV production crew never showed that replay even though they had plenty of time. Leyds should have taken a knee and forced the issue.

  • John Comyn

    Were Akker’s name Bakkies he would have got a 6 month suspension! One would think both players, at the very least, got the same sanction. It sucks!

    • Barry

      You do battle to keep up John, don’t you. Bakkies was a “repeat offender”, though, lets face it, a likeable one! Brits is also a repeat offender, Akker is not. Repeat offender get heavier sanction than first timers. Surely that’s not so hard to understand?

      • Neil

        Very wise, profound and seemingly indisputable words Barry. Schalk has been around for a long time, Akker has not. Whilst I do not as a rule defend either Schalk, Akker (or for that matter Bakkies”) rights to angel-dom, Akker is simply the same engine with less mileage and therefore less speed-fines. My gut says is after 15 years you will most likely find Akker with somewhat more indiscretions than Schalk, but hey, let’s see.

        • Barry

          Neil need to first gather facts before reaching for the key board. VDM has played Pro Rugby for nine years without a Red Card. He may be new-ish at the Sharks but he’s done time at the Lions and prior to that age group at the Eagles

          If you’re going to try and trash player integrity in public forum, then at least do so with some fact and not just preconceived prejudice!

  • John Comyn

    Off the subject: Some interesting stats Rassie might want to look at. This what the Premiership call “Top attacking points 2019 season”

    Cobus Reinach – 388 (Northampton)
    Santiago Cordero– 340 (Exeter)
    Francois Hougaard – 329 (Worcester)

    Stats are based on Drop goals, tries, assists, kick metres, running metres with ball in hand, passes and offloads, clean breaks, defenders beaten, line outs won, and then negative points for turnovers conceded.

  • Barry

    In law, one travels down the road of events until you arrive at a point of “Probable cause”. This road would arrive at a point when Britz, knowingly entered the ruck area, went off his feet and slowed down the opposition ball. This was an intentional foul in the Red Zone. It should not be overlooked or simply condoned, as so many pro Britz supporters are doing! How many times have New Zealand done this to the Springboks and when it happens there is outrage and claims of cheating, but when Britz does it, well some see it as ok?

    If you step back for a moment and ask yourself whether the punch-up would have occurred had Britz not transgressed, the simply answer is no it would not have! Britz started the chain of events and he must be held accountable for that, as I believe he has been!

    In arriving at sanction, the board would also consider the merits and severity of the red card offence and the fact that he is a repeat offender, thus arriving at a longer sentence than Van der Merwe. I believe a point that would not have sat well with the review panel was Britz sitting in the audience immediately after the event and laughing and making light of things! It sends the wrong message!

    In a case of house breaking where the robber gets a hiding by the house owner, how many people would find in favour of the robber? Most would say, well you shouldn’t have broken into the house, yet when it becomes Provincial, all of a sudden house breaking is ok??

    The review panel got this spot on. Some will not have picked up that Britz’ sentence was in fact increased after the hearing. It was initially four weeks, which was effectively three games and was increased to Four games!

    • SweetAz

      Ah Bullshit Barry, if you want to get all Legal Eagle then so will I. To determine intent or motive there needs to be clear evidence, in this case, there is neither. Nobody has any idea of Brits state of mind or intent, there simply is not enough time (milliseconds) for him to formulate either, in other words, NO PREMEDITATION.

      The most obvious and logical reason for his transgression is simple physics, moving bodies and good old gravity. In other words an accident. AND THAT IS WHAT THE BOARD DECIDED.

      HOWEVER, when Akker went to clear him out he had no chance of achieving his objective on a player lying on the ground, his clear intent was to do physical harm, an assault if you will. Hence he is the offender, the initial CRIME being his (please keep up here, first-year law teaches you a crime requires motive) HIS MOTIVE WAS TO INJURE.

      Everything follows from there.

      • Greg Shark

        Shaking the head…. you start off claim the need for “clear evidence” “to determine intent or motive” and you finish going in the exact opposite direction regarding Akker with “his motive was to injure” without “clear evidence” but simply plucked out of the sky to suit your closing argument…. even the attached video clip shows clear Akker’s head striking Brits on the shoulder, that it may have glanced along the left side of his face is a reasonable question.

        To further untie your argument that “nobody has an idea of Brits’ state of mind” it could convincingly be argued that Brits predetermined that cheating (laying over the ruck and handling the ball) was the only way of stopping the opportunity of scoring a try. That he needed anything more than mere “milliseconds to formulate either” is neither here nor there as he acted instinctively being trained over and over to do just that!

        Then onto simple physics – Brits’ exhibited ‘potential energy’ in his errant behavior on the ruck. Akker used ‘kinetic energy’ to dislodge Brits from his criminal position grappling with him and turning him over the melee…… unless “gravity” acts parallel to the earth surface, it played no part in the ensuing result.

      • Sharky

        Where did you get your law degree? I’d ask for my money back!

        “To determine intent or motive there needs to be clear evidence” – to determine anything in law there needs to be clear evidence. Unless someone has written down or verbalised their thoughts intent can only ever be inferred.

        There is both mens rea (guilty mind) and actus reus (guilty acts) on both sides. These are the elements required for criminal capability. Brits willfully slowed down the ball and retaliated with slaps and later punches. Akker threw punches and (arguably) made intentional contact with the head. I personally don’t see ant problem with Akker’s clean out aside from Brits taking offense at being manhandled and going for / slapping Akker’s head.

        SweetAz is using the tort test for tortious liability – the “but for” test (i.e. but for Brits’ action there wouldn’t have been a fight). This isn’t a criminal court nor is this a tort case. In rugby, at least when it comes to throwing punches, the mens rea is either assumed or considered irrelevant. In the end justice was done.

      • Barry

        The ref gave the Sharks a penalty for the infringement, unfortunately only after the scuffle. You’d need to argue with the ref. He was pretty clear so am I, it is only you that seems rattled.

        Seem a bit hot and bothered, hope all ok!

        • SweetAz

          LOL, not bothered in the least, I simply capitalize so slower and older folk dont struggle too much with reading and comprehension.

          • Barry

            A bit of a slight, John’s not that bad!

    • John Comyn

      Where on earth are you getting the idea that Brits illegally entered the ruck area? He was always part of the ruck for starters, secondly he was at the back of the ruck and nowhere near the scrummie when he had the ball in his hand. Thirdly almost all the forwards from both sides were off their feet so if the Bulls did in fact collapse the maul it happened way before the incident. Did the ref have his hand out to indicate he was giving a penalty advantage to the Sharks??

      • Barry

        Oh, for Pete’s sake John have a look at the captioned image at the beginning of the video clip!

        There is more than one player on their feet at the point of breakdown – ruck has formed! That means no more hands in, Brits disregards this law and attempts to slow the ball down. He did come in late and he was not supporting his own body weight, but none of that matters, the Ruck had formed and he had no right to have hands in – Clear enough?

        • Neil

          Hang on a sec, legal eagle aside, is this section of comments trying to justify that slowing the ball down is justifying of a headbutt? So essentially an argument of aggravated cause? Never seen that work out in a court of law so beginning to think you are less experienced in a practical court of law than you appear to make out…

          • Barry

            Neil maybe read the total blog and then comment, it’s not going well!

            I am responding to John’s suggestion that Brits was legally slowing the Sharks ball down. A bit silly really because after the debacle the ref gave the Sharks a penalty for hands in – it’s not really a debate.

            Your so called head butt was officially deemed a clean out. Again, we need to keep to the facts!

            It is you Sir that keeps jumping to conclusion and making legal utterings!

    • Koos


      And no, breaking the laws of a GAME and ASSAULT is completely different

      • Barry

        In what way Koos, they are both laws and both there to be respected? That’s the problem Koos you overlook some rules, when circumstances suit and uphold others when it doesn’t. When making allegations of assault, you need to be mindful of who gave the first punch!

        • Koos

          I thought this obvious, but here goes:

          Assault is a CRIME
          Slowing a rugby game’s ball down in NOT

          I’m not overlooking anything, Brits may have thrown the first punch, but Akker started the altercation with a headbutt.

          • Neil

            Eh?? Ok Barry, going to bail out, I apologize that I thought this debate was rational, it jumps around more than a kangaroo on steroids. Retaliation is targeted in the rules of rugby, often, more rightly, worse in terms of penalization. Schalk should not have hit him, he should have known better. Banned, no issues. What I mostly (as a neutral) worry about is you somehow seem to insinuate that Akker was validated in his actions. Lets make it clear – he wasn’t. He is a thug who was out of line. The fact that Schalk was either slowing the ball down or reacted makes no difference to that. Ban the both of them, support whatever side you want, the reaction of either side tells you who (justifiably) realizes they were in the wrong (hint:both).

          • Barry

            Koos, they are both offences that exist in the rules of rugby, they just carry greater and lessor sanction, but neither is to be condoned – that’s the point, I made.

            So following my earlier analogy, you would then see “house breaking as ok”, because assault is a more serious offence? Fortunately the Citing Commission do not see it your way and good sense prevailed!

            You need to also re-visit the facts, Van der Merwe was cited for punching, not for cleaning out, that was just a misleading report fed out by Rob Houwing, about the same time as we were told that Brits had a clean disciplinary record, neither reports were factual!!!

            So to get back to your point of assault, the punch in the sequence of “citing” events was made by Brits first!

  • Wesley

    I don’t get the outrage… Akker banned 3 weeks as he has had no disciplinary record, Schalk did the same, but an added week for a repeat offender. That’s how the law should work.

    When i commented before i wasn’t aware of Schalk’s previous infringements. He obviously has punch reaction to some situations, not saying he is dirty or anything though. He should just watch himself, as the bans can get progressively heavier for repeats, as it should.

    Actually, who cares about the headbutt and “who started it”, easy to argue that away as head collisions in an illegal cleanout technique could happen. Akker obviously wasn’t thinking of “assaulting” Brits, he just wanted to hit him hard to get him away from (illegally) slowing down ball. Are we now condoning punching a player if there is a jersey pull or any type of illegal cleanout? That’s what the ref and then citing commissioner is there for.

    • Chris Mouton

      Spot on, Wesley. I think both players were in the wrong and got punished for it. I wonder what effect this would have on their respective franchises, as they are both vital players.

    • Barry

      Yes agreed Wesley, I was quite happy when they were both sent off with Reds! The Citing process was quite clear and the reason for the additional time explained!

      Brits got a bit bossed about in the process and I wonder if that is not what is creating discomfort for some?

      • SweetAz

        Dick move to assault a player from above when he is lying on the ground, not what I would call bossing. Maybe they do things differently in Natal.

        • Wesley

          What, you wouldnt take advantage of someone punching you but falling on their back in the process, and fire back with a few punches yourself to gain upper hand? Im not saying the fighting is good, both got sanctions of what they deserved, but there has to be someone who gets dropped on his back some time or another. Only dick moves are dick shots, cheap shots and eye gouges. Facing each other its open season! At least Schalk took it like a man.

          • SweetAz

            Yeah Naaahhh, –I suspect from the way Akkers body has changed lately that what we are seeing is some “Roid Rage”. Which would be entirely consistent with Sharks team ethos of late. Chiliboi Ralepele……..

          • Barry

            As I said earlier Wesley, it seems more about the indignity of having their player bossed than the right and wrong of the ordeal.

          • SweetAz

            The first dick move was the headbutt, everything else followed from there.

  • jako

    Cry me a river, Nel. He started it with a penalty or maybe a yellow offence. So what? Punch him? Yes, thats the way the game is played. Punch him if he offends…
    Did he bring the game into disrepute? Did he sit in the stands laughing with the crowd at red card? Did he make a mockery of the ref, the laws and the game?
    Brits is extremely lucky to get anything under 6 months for turning it into a joke. He’s a Kardashian. Leave it now…

  • GT Coet

    From some of the comments above it seems it is justified to take the law in your own hands if someone slows the ball down and dangerously go in with the head and fists. What puzzles me is that there is such an emphasis on dangerous play and here we look at something quite different !

  • GT Coet

    From some of the comments above it seems it is justified to take the law in your own hands if someone slows the ball down and dangerously go in with the head and fists. What puzzles me is that there is such an emphasis on dangerous play and here we look at it differently ?

    • Greg Shark

      the player is justified to clean out an offending player….. it is the manner in which it happens that attracts attention. If not cleaned out (and it happens 10x or more in any game) and the ref lets it go (maybe does not see it and line runners are usually blind to it) then the offending player just keeps on laying on the ruck and hands on the ball…… cleaning out is not an issue, it is how it is done

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