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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ed O'Donoghue cleared of eyegouging after red card game changer

Reds lock Ed O'Donoghue was cleared of eyegouging following one of the most talked about few minutes of the season so far. The incident against the Rebels was briefly included in the Shortball earlier in the week, but here's a longer look.

With the scores tied at 27-27, Scott Higginbotham and O'Donoghue got in a tangle at the back of a ruck, then continued on the floor. There appeared to be a bit of a head clash (from Higginbotham), then O'Donoghue rubbed his hand all over the Rebels captain's face.

Referee Steve Walsh allowed play to continue but just as the Reds were about to throw in to an attacking lineout, the TMO intervened and recommended to Walsh that a red card - and penalty - for eyegouging was neccessary. The Rebels slotted the easy kick, winning the game 30-27.

Reds captain James Horwill was furious, saying that they were robbed by a 'stupid referee decision', and continued in the press conference by saying that Super Rugby was being ruined as a spectacle.

"I've played 150 professional games of rugby and I've never ever ever seen that happen before," an irate Horwill said. "This spectacle of Super Rugby is being ruined. There's too much going back and slowing of the game. It's getting beyond a joke.

"From my experience of eye gouging, there's a mark. There was no mark on Higgers. Higgers thought he was in trouble. He was surprised [at the gouging claim]. At every breakdown, there are hands, arms, elbows, knees. That's the reality of a physical game. You can't pick one moment out and not go back for every single one in every game," he added.

Not Guilty

At the hearing it was found that there was no contact with the eyes, so O'Donoghue was cleared and the red card was scrapped from his record, no doubt compounding the frustration for the Reds.

"The act of eye gouging generally triggers a reaction from the victim, which was not evident in this case and helped support my finding," said the SANZAR statement. They also listened to submissions from the Rebels medical team, and Higginbotham himself, who said he had no complaints.

O'Donoghue says that eye-gouging sickens him."I despise the act of eye-gouging and to think my name is linked with it after a little wrestle around the ruck sickens me. I'm not a gouger."

The lesson in all this is that, as Rebels flanker Scott Fuglistaller says, 'the eyes are sacrosanct', and if you're going to stick your hand or fingers near them, be prepared to get a bit of heat for it.

Update: James Horwill has been charged with a code of conduct breach following his 'stupid refereeing decision' comment. He faces a possible fine of up to $500.

Posted by Rugbydump at 1:45 pm | View Comments (24)

Posted in Big Hits & Dirty Play

Viewing 24 comments

finedisregard May 22, 2014 3:37 pm

Horrible, horrible, horrible. This wasn't even Walsh's fault. Horwill was right and the nameless TMO and should be fired. Reds were robbed.

Instant replay has been very controversial in American sports for 30 years. It's very tough to get the right balance of correcting missed calls and not slowing down the game.

Higginbotham is a classy dude and overzealous reffing is killing the game.

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kanpai May 22, 2014 3:59 pm

Well, just by looking the video I understand the decision of the TMO. The hand was above the eyes, and everything looks like a gouging (and we've seen players facing a huge ban for much less proofs than this). As said in the article, "if you're going to stick your hand or fingers near them, be prepared to get a bit of heat for it" .

What i find very strange is the intervention of the TMO during a play, even if it wasn't asked. Is it allowed ? because if not, that's really something i don't wish to see anymore, the game would be stopped every two minutes.

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i love bacon May 22, 2014 4:39 pm

"if you're going to stick your hand or fingers near them, be prepared to get a bit of heat for it"

So what of Higgibotham's hand in O'Donoghue's face - near the eyes - as well?

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kanpai May 22, 2014 6:59 pm

Well, i haven't really looked at it, but if there is a doubt, it has to be at least checked (if asked by the referee or later by the citing commission).
A couple of years ago, eye gouging was heavily penalized, you can't just stop now.

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alasdairduncan3 May 22, 2014 7:42 pm

kanpai, I couldn't agree more. Everyone knows gouging is a serious offense, and if you go for someone's face like this, then you can't complain if tough calls are made.
I think it's an honest mistake, one which Donoghue could easily could have avoided with slightly better judgement.
In the end, the penalty was the only result of this as the card has been rescinded. Seems fair to me.

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Eddie-g May 22, 2014 5:06 pm


TMO is not nameless, it was Steve Leszczynski. And he's not officiating in any of the games this weekend.

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Joaco May 22, 2014 5:20 pm

Just love how the IRB and all their brainwashed referees are ruining this game. It's so enjoyable to watch.

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Eddie-g May 22, 2014 8:40 pm

@Kanpai - the key thing you said is, "just by looking at the video".

What really infuriated the Reds was that Steve Walsh had already spoken to the players involved and was convinced that no-one had been gouged. Higginbotham hadn't made any complaint, no medics had been called for, basically from the people closest to the action, there was nothing to worry about.

It reminded me a little of Francois Louw's yellow card against Wales in November - a decision I was properly pissed about because it was one of those things that looked so much worse in slo-mo on tv than it was in reality. Neither were carding offences, penalties if you want to be harsh, but nothing for TMOs and the like to get involved in.

Sometimes tv reviews are helpful, but sometimes the ref has better information and a better perspective. This was the latter case.

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Guest viewer May 22, 2014 9:30 pm

Horwell should have been banned but got "cleared" when evidence was much clearer than that incident in the lions tour fir his stamp!

Yes Walshy did try to skirt around it, but clearly the laws for gouging brushing around the eyes is instant red! Well done Walshy - man up Horwell and take responsibility !!

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Jon May 22, 2014 11:24 pm

That's clearly not true.
Horwill was cleared by TWO separate tribunals, overseen by two judicial panels with impeccable credentials.
The fact that neither case went the way you personally thought it should have is irrelevant. Tribunals aren't decided based on public opinion. That would be a kangaroo court.

And in this case it was obviously not an eye gouge. Higinbotham said as much.
The idea that we would call the supposed victim a liar and ban O'Donoghue anyway is absurd. What kind of ridiculous tribunal system are you advocating.

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Reality May 23, 2014 10:52 am

Jon, while I agree with your second paragraph, your first is a bit simplistic.

It seems like you're saying that the rugby tribunal simply could not have been wrong regarding Horwill's case. In that instance the only thing to be looked at was the intention of Horwill, i.e. whether or not the stamp was deliberate. Passing judgement based on whether or not in your opinion someone did something intentionally is obviously not proof of innocence or guilt; it's an expert opinion which acts as law but nothing more than that. Saying that it's unacceptable for someone to have another opinion on the matter is a bit much.

For the case of O'Donoghue, various facts were considered which led to the conclusion that what supposedly happened in fact did not happen, for which we can all accept the judgement. However, declaring someone innocent because the panel thought an act wasn't intentional is a completely different matter though.

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Jon May 24, 2014 2:43 am

I didn't say you can't have another opinion, just that it's irrelevant to the outcome of a tribunal.

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Canadian content May 22, 2014 9:34 pm

a) I really don't get the penalty to blue 20 in the first place, he was dragging the red player off of his teammate, not retaliating but protecting. C nothing wrong with that.

B) if u watch from the beginning the red player starts the whole thing with a semi shoulder charge at the ruck, higgie engages, they wrestle to deck, red grabs higgie in a headlock, biggie possibly headbutts him (debatable at best) then red gets in top and face washes blue. To me, the face wash alone was a penalty.

C) do u think horwill would have minded if higgie would have been done for the questionable headbutt? Hell he was pushing for it! Total hypocrite.

D) as said before, justice was done. Red player really took liberties with the face wash, which really has no place in rugby, it's cheap. Penalty deserved.

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Mastersa May 22, 2014 9:39 pm

Personally, I don't see how the officials could have interpreted this as anything other than at least an attempted eye gouge. Anyway rightly or wrongly the officials made their decision and as with the long held tradition of rugby the players must respect this. Horrill as usual Is a disgrace in such matters with his Alex Ferguson like after match comments.

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Colombes May 22, 2014 10:12 pm

More shocked by the late TMO intervention than by the action.

But i must say that we've seen many players accused and banned for eye-gouging for much less than this "face washing".
I guess that's the absurdity of the irb and some federations sanctions: Be very severe in the first decisions and forget it after few months, years..

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DrG May 22, 2014 11:10 pm

Well, seeing as there has been no complaints about gouging and O'Donoghue has been cleared, I suppose it's safe to say it wasn't a gouge.

That being said, players have to know better, I have to admit there is one angle where his fingers are curled and his hand is over the players eyes, if you had no prior knowledge of this incident and someone showed you that still and said 'is this a gouge', then I predict that 100% of the answers would be either 'probably' or 'yes'... So in some ways I cannot feel sorry for Ed.

Then the rest of the scuffle... headbutts? Letter of the law sort of indicates that there was a headbutt, so in theory, should have probably been a red there..

I can understand Horwills reaction, but I'm not fond of his after game interview behaviour, I know it's frustration and I don't want to see a Teleprompter in front of the players, but I'd rather Horwill just not do the interview.

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matt May 22, 2014 11:56 pm

I think Walsh and the video ref did a great job here. The decision, and the card, were probably wrong in hindsight, but I am very happy to see a set of referees with the balls to make a massive call when it is required.
I remember watching this game and at the time I was 100% sure it was a gouge. All the stuff about marks on the face and people complaining etc is very easy to gather after the game, but in the 30 seconds they have to make a decision during the match I think this was the right one.

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finedisregard May 23, 2014 1:27 pm

"make a massive call when it required." That's just it, it wasn't required. There was no eye gouge and the call was wrong. What's more the tmo stopped play at a critical time and basically gave the game away. These guys don't train their guts out just to have some guy in the stands decide who is going to win based on some thing he thinks might have happened.

As a ref, when in doubt you don't make the call.

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DrG May 24, 2014 1:48 pm

@finedisregard - I'm sorry but I completely disagree with you. Whilst all the evidence has turned up to say 'there was no gouge' as far as VIDEO evidence goes - which is all any referee, or tmo has, there WAS a gouge. Look at the still image that RD has included for this topic right under the title. THAT image shows what I am sure 100% of people would perceive to be an eye gouge. If the judiciary panel were to go on video evidence alone and nothing else, that guy would be in for a ban because that LOOKS like a ban.

The fact the players have stood up after the game and said 'no that wasn't a gouge' only goes to show how the camera DOES lie.

Also I hate to promote soccer over rugby because frankly I despise the game, but rather than haranguing the referees' for judging what they can see perhaps people should kick up a fuss that Higginbotham didn't say anything there and then, and that perhaps the kicker didn't miss on purpose or something - a la

View Video

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Oliver May 23, 2014 8:16 am

the problem is that it looks exactly the same as the Dupuy incident of a few years back:

and Dupuy got a six months ban. So a little consistency would be needed imo.
Go near the eyes and get x weeks of suspension for instance. raking or not, there is no reason whatsoever to put your hands in that area.

View Video

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DrG May 23, 2014 9:58 am

Not the same at all... Although I feel this incident looked like an eye gouge, according to ALL the evidence and NOT just the video, it turns out it was not:

- Video looks pretty damning.
- Medical team said no evidence of gouge.
- Higginbotham said he wasn't gouged.

As for Dupuy there is one thing in common - the video, and that is it!:

- Video looks pretty damning for Dupuy.
- Medical team went batshit crazy.
- So did Ferris...

So it's not really a lack of consistency when you use all the evidence.

I agree going near the eyes is stupid and potentially dangerous if you're actually trying to rake/gouge, but in this case the evidence said he was clearly not trying to.

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Oliver May 23, 2014 3:48 pm

basically I agree with everything you said, except this:

"going near the eyes is stupid and potentially dangerous if you're actually trying to rake/gouge"

I think it's stupid and potentially dangerous in all cases!

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DrG May 23, 2014 4:58 pm

Well, yes, you're right... when re-reading it it also makes little sense... you aren't going to go near the guys toes if you're going to rake/gouge his eyes.

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larry May 25, 2014 2:45 pm

I'm actually more concerned with the play leading up to this fracas. The "phony" rucks are a result of changes to the game's laws. It's boring and stupid, and there's basically no contest going on, just a tackled player placing the ball back, and the defense spreading out, cluttering the midfield. One might argue that this style of play leads up to the sort of on-field fight that happened. I don't want to watch a union version of rugby league, I want to see rugby union. Of course it's the Southern Hemisphere's unions that has led to this style of play that is counter to anything seen before the mid-90's. I'd rather see the occasional pile up from thirteen or fourteen forwards mauling and rucking than this stop-start phony rucking anyday, anytime. What the game is devolved into is fifteen loose forwards playing against fifteen loose forwards, spread out over the pitch. And the irony is that a lineout was disrupted by the ref, as though those are contested anymore!

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