Ioane suspended for 5 weeks

The SANZAR Duty Judicial Officer Mike Heron has accepted a guilty plea from Digby Ioane of the Reds for contravening Law 10.4 (j). Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground is dangerous play, after he was Cited following a Super Rugby Match at the Weekend after he lifted Marcell Coetzee in a tackle and drove him backwards so Coetzee hit the ground in a dangerous position.

Ioane has been suspended from all forms of the game for five weeks up to and including Saturday 21st April 2012.

The incident occurred in the 40th minute of the match between the Sharks and Reds played in Durban at Mr Price Kings Park on Saturday 17th March.

SANZAR Duty Judicial Officer Mike Heron assessed the case.

In his finding, Mr Heron ruled the following:

Digby Ioane was cited for a dangerous tackle made in the Reds v Sharks match on 17 March 2012.  He was given a yellow card on the field, and the incident was referred to the citing commissioner (white card).  The matter came to me as Duty JO.

After reviewing the relevant material (including footage and reports on the SANZAR intranet), I followed the Duty JO process via telephone calls with the player, his coach and the Reds team manager.  At the end of that process, I gave an indication of penalty of five weeks’ suspension.  After having time to consider that, the player accepted that suspension. Accordingly, Digby Ioane is suspended from all forms of the game for the five weeks to and including Saturday 21 April 2012 (that includes four scheduled Super Rugby matches and the bye week).

My reasons are as follows:

The tackle involved the player lifting the opposition player, tipping him beyond the horizontal and driving him backwards into the ground, in one motion.  The Sharks player broke his fall with his right arm and landed on his back.  The tackle was dangerous, although it appears from the footage that Ioane attempts to control the opposition player by keeping hold of him until he was brought to ground. That was not achieved safely in the circumstances and I find that the tackle was in breach of Law 10.4(j). The player accepted that the tackle was executed poorly and was in breach.  His coach also accepted that and explained that the tackle occurred in a dynamic manner, in a critical defensive play for the Reds.

I reviewed the match footage, the citing commissioners report and the reports from the referee and assistant referee.  I find that the tackle was executed deliberately in the sense that he intended to lift the player and drive him backwards.  The player was tipped beyond the horizontal and driven backwards to the ground (and objectively assessed was clearly dangerous).  I accept, however, that there was no intention to injure the player or to drive him forcefully into the ground. Rather, Ioane has executed the tackle with poor technique and was reckless as to the danger caused. In all the circumstances, I find that the tackle was mid-range and warrants an entry point of six weeks.

I note that the Sharks player received attention on the field and continued to play.  The medical information I received indicated that the Sharks player received bruising to his neck, although I do not have further information as to the precise cause or seriousness of this.

Digby Ioane has two previous disciplinary matters relating to dangerous tackles, albeit from the 2008 season.  The player accepted that he had been suspended for similar tackles in the past, but explained that he had altered his technique in subsequent seasons without further incident.  The previous incidents are aggravating, although one has to take care not to punish the player twice.  In light of their rather historic nature, in my view they warrant an addition of a further week to the penalty.

There is also the need for deterrence which again is present in respect to these tackles (refer IRB memorandum of June 2009). A further week suspension is warranted for reasons of deterrence.

Matters in mitigation include the players immediate acceptance of his wrong, his remorse for the same (expressed to me) and his plea of guilty. He received a yellow card, which in turn adversely impacted on the Reds during the game.  The player does have a recent misconduct matter although it is not related and warrants no further mention.  He is a talented international player who appears to have played several seasons without significant incident.

To recognise and acknowledge the immediate guilty plea and remorse, and other mitigating factors, I am prepared to reduce the sanction by three weeks,resulting in an ultimate sanction of five weeks.  I have considered the relevance of the bye week in the course of my deliberation.  I do not adjust my penalty to take account of that, given that the suspension is from all forms of the game and is intended to be meaningful but expressed in weeks. I appreciate that this suspension covers four scheduled matches rather than five, but note that this is coincidental, and does not in my view materially alter the substance of the suspension.

Accordingly, Digby Ioane is suspended from all forms of the game for the five weeks to and including Saturday 21April 2012.

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