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.
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.