Scotland v Ireland: Time to move on from Grant Gilchrist disciplinary farrago, says Steve Tandy

Defence coach expresses his frustration at delayed verdict but would rather focus on Sunday's match

Steve Tandy - Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Steve Tandy - Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

AT a time when everyone and anyone interested in the sport is on the same page with regard to minimising the risk of brain injury in rugby through strong refereeing, it is jaw-dropping that Six Nations disciplinary processes – certainly the communication of these processes – continue to confuse and divert from the key issue of player safety. 

There is no credible argument against the three-match suspension, reduced to two matches if he attends a coaching intervention programme, imposed upon Grant Gilchrist on Monday following his red-carding for shoulder-to-head contact in a tackle on French flanker Anthony Jelonch during the previous Sunday’s Six Nations round three clash in Paris (although it did raise some eyebrows that the Scottish second-row with a previously unblemished disciplinary record got just one less week than Mohamed Haouas, who has history of dangerously reckless behaviour on the pitch and who dived round the side of a ruck to effectively execute a flying head-butt on Ben White).

What is hard to fathom is that it took the Six Nations disciplinary panel the best part of six days – between last Tuesday night when the hearing took place and Monday lunchtime when the ruling was eventually delivered – to stick their head above the parapet. That meant that Edinburgh’s game against Leinster on Saturday evening, which Gilchrist could theoretically have played in, came and went whilst he was awaiting his verdict.  If he had played in that match, and it had counted as ‘meaningful’ to his ban, then the second-row would have been clear to play in Scotland’s final Six Nations outing against Italy a week on Saturday.


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In contrast, Haouas’ suspension was delivered last Wednesday lunchtime, the day after his hearing. Why the discrepancy?

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ is not quite the right legal maxim for this sort of situation, but the phrase seems to sum-up a crazy scenario whereby a ruling body appears to have buried its head in the sand rather than deal with the tricky question of what constitutes a ‘meaningful match’ inside the Six Nations window.

Frankly, any suggestion that the six day wait for a ruling was because it wasn’t possible to convene a meeting of the disciplinary panel to agree a verdict any sooner doesn’t cut the mustard for a multi-million pound business which relies on the integrity and credibility of the competition it promotes. A prerequisite of being on such a disciplinary panel must surely be availability to reach a judgement in a timely manner.

It’s not the first time Six Nations and/or World Rugby have got themselves in a tangle over this sort of stuff. We had a similar sort of farce after Zander Fagerson‘s red-card against Wales in 2021.

Scotland defence coach Steve Tandy is not the type of character to get embroiled such wrangling, but he didn’t mince his words earlier today when asked for his take on the situation – although he did also then expressed a desire to now look forward at the challenge which lies ahead when Ireland arrive at Murrayfield on Sunday.

“The length of time it took is pretty frustrating,” he said. “We had boys who were involved with France go back to play for the clubs last weekend [meaning Gilchrist could have done the same with Edinburgh], so there is that inconsistency and a bit of frustration with it, but it’s time now to park it and get ready to go again on Sunday.

“With these kinds of things, you can’t give it too much energy. We’ve got a massive game at the weekend which Grant wouldn’t have been available for anyway, so it is about really focussing and honing-in on what we need to do against Ireland.”

Tandy then explained that while it is a blow to lose a player who adds so much to the team in terms of work-rate, leadership and line-out prowess, there is enough strength in depth in the squad to ensure that this is not a crippling set-back.

“Grant is an outstanding line-out caller, but we’ve got Richie Gray, and John Dalziel as forwards coach does a fantastic job with the boys,” he reasoned. “We’ve also got Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings, who are experienced forwards, and Sam Skinner is an excellent caller. So, I think we’ve got plenty of armoury there to fill those slots.”

The Welshman also allayed fears about the fitness of talismanic stand-off Finn Russell, who played 80 minutes of Racing 92 against Toulouse on Sunday evening with a heavily strapped leg.

“Finn will be fine,” he asserted. “In these big games you’re always going to get banged up a little bit but the way the boys recover and with everyone working on it, he’ll be fine.”

 

Tandy added that Scotland will show this weekend’s opponents all the respect they have earned from climbing to the status of number one ranked team in the world, but stressed that his team should make no apologies about approaching the game believing they can win.

“We’re aware of what Ireland do, and we’ve definitely taken a keen interest in how they play, but, for us, the motivation is that we want to get better,” he explained. “We’ve produced some really positive performances in this campaign so far, but we believe there is more in us both sides of the ball, so if we can get better then we believe we can really challenge Ireland on Sunday.

“Ireland were a fantastic team under Joe Schmidt and Andy Farrell has kicked them on [since he took over as head coach following the 2019 World Cup]. They know exactly what their identity is and the way they want to play the game. Ultimately you don’t go to New Zealand and win Test series and get to number one in the world if you’re not an outstanding team. They’re very consistent and have a lot of experience in the team as well. So, we know the challenge that we’re facing on Sunday but it’s one we’re really excited about.”

Finally, Tandy explained that Scotland mustn’t rely on referee Luke Pearce coming down on their side when they take on a team who are masters of rugby’s dark arts.

“He [Pearce] referees the game really well and he’ll be hard on what he sees, but we’ve got to make sure that we’re really spot on in the contact area,” said Tandy. “We can’t leave it in the hands of others.

“We’ve got to look after what we do with our ball-carrying, contact-cleans and our defensive discipline, making sure we’re rolling away and being squeaky clean. We know the trends on refereeing and the way the game is going now so we have to make sure first and foremost that our house is in order.”


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About David Barnes 3960 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

19 Comments

  1. David,
    shamelessly nicked from elsewhere, but the delay in the decision was not only unacceptable as you explain, it was also a clear breach or WR regulations; decision must be taken within 48hrs, 72 in exceptional circumstances (regs even deal with a panel member becoming indisposed).
    I agree with you about no credible reason to challenge the length of ban, but laws is laws and regs is regs, this decision is outside the regs and should be set aside

    • All the more reason for the SRU to appeal this retrospectively citing breach of WR regulations and even argue the case for the judgement to be put aside as invalid.

  2. one question – are those who are saying the SRU legal dept and Dodson should go full throttle on this the same people who criticised them for going full throttle against the World Cup stitch up mess (typhoon) in Japan when the SRU ended up with a £70K fine?

    Anyway I’m very confident they argues the case as hard as they could. The inconsistency with say Farrell this 6N and eg Cian Healey in a previous 6N is astounding

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    • Well I have to say I think there should be some transparency as to how this matter was handled by those responsible in the SRU, either Dodson or whoever otherwise the only conclusion is a level of ineptitude in allowing the matter to drag on without considering ‘playing the system with the excellent example you mentioned with Healey, and the 2019 RWC situation was I think totally different, you can’t control the weather but you can question the efficiency and professionalism of a body officially constituted by World Rugby. My position is support the player, support the team and question any decision that increases any penalty to the disadvantage of the Team and Player.

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      • the RWC was not about the weather, it was about the rubbish contingency (move 10 miles down the road where the same typhoon will hit) and different treatment afforded to others, inc NZ

        Did you criticise Dodson for his actions then?

  3. All of this (plus several similar formal frustrations in external “upward” dealings with regulatory / governing bodies) begs the question “what is the SRU’s well-staffed, highly-qualified in-house legal department actually for…”

    Although the true answer may well be that from SRU Legal Counsel Mr Howzat through to the lowliest administrator, clerk or secretary, the department’s actual purpose is “to subjugate the peasants, bully the Membership and manipulate meetings (general and otherwise)” perhaps some considered intervention from that gilded group of legal experts might be preferential to the blustering CEO occasionally blowing his top (in public to tangibly negative effect) as witnessed during RWC 2019 in Japan.

    Who knows, the Union’s in-house legal team might even have managed to provide some positive input to the disappointing dog’s breakfast that eventually emerged as the epitaph to SCOG!

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    • I can’t avoid the thought that the pair of thumbs down in my earlier post at 11.02pm yesterday are there for my having the temerity to question the governance of the SRU by Dodson and others: let the professionals do the Job, if only.

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    • ‘“what is the SRU’s well-staffed, highly-qualified in-house legal department actually for…”’

      …. defending and protecting Mr Dodson of course. That doesn’t leave much time for anything else does it?

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      • Even then the Russell affair showed that they couldn’t defend the indefensible. Better to concentrate on issues where there is actually a case to be argued!

  4. If Gilchrist had played in the Leinster game – so before the panel’s decision was publicised – would that have meant it definitely couldn’t be one of the matches counted towards the “ban period”? I could understand not selecting him if it could be argued that the Leinster game was one of the 2 he has to miss and therefore ensuring Gilchrist would be available vs Italy. If this was the understanding but the Disciplinary Panel decided to ignore the Leinster game and thus make Gilchrist ineligible for the Italy game, that is totally unreasonable. As we are all saying, the disciplinary process is a farce and urgently needs overhaul, with clarity and all steps taken to demonstrate impartiality. The fact that the process is currently open to accusations of bias and inconsistency just demonstrates how unfit for purpose it is.

  5. Perhaps David Barnes could use his position and ask these questions of the SRU
    1. ‘Why when you hadn’t heard from the panel on Thursday afternoon didn’t you approach them and question whether they had reached a decision?
    2. Why if there was a negative response to that question didn’t the SRU engage a bit of thought and pre-empt the potential disadvantage by releasing Gilchrist to be selected for the Leinster game?
    3. Why haven’t you learnt from other Unions ‘playing’ the system, RFU and Farrell [although was it a gift he played?] or as S+9 pointed out Healey in all his pomp being selected for an ‘A’ team fixture.
    With one of the best squads in generations the players and supporters deserve better.

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  6. Was there anything stopping Edinburgh playing Gilchrist against Leinster? Just a thought if the panel decide to delay rulings in the future.

    • Good question, perhaps the default position is until you hear the Disciplinary Panels judgement select the player as normal on the basis that any delay on their part is a further disadvantage to the player and the ‘Team’.
      There are many ‘faults’ to the system, the primary one being de facto ‘fixed penalties’ that appear to be anything but.
      The SRU should argue this situation that the unexpected delay has disadvantaged the player and the National Squad because the SRU quite rightly expected a decision within a reasonable time of the hearing and that in fairness to the Player and team the ‘retrospective’ acceptance of the Edinburgh game should be accepted, allowing for opportunity to be selected for the Italian game.
      If not that then a reasonable explanation showing why the delay in the announcement was justified, was someone on the panel advocating a greater penalty? How would that have looked against the actions of the French player in the same fixture?

    • It could have been that Edinburgh didnt want to disrupt their preparations by including someone in their team that would then be subsequently banned potentially the night before the game.
      unbelieveably poor from the disciplinary panel that gave the SRU no option.

      • It would have been a ‘paper’ selection and in truth wouldn’t have disrupted anything because Edinburgh would have expected IF the DP did their job expeditiously that he would not play but it would count toward the ban.

      • Edin originally listed Gilchrist as unavailable for selection because he was retained by Scotland. Thus the Leinster game could not count was I think the panel decision.
        Edin subsequently deleted the reference to Gilchrist, but too late, evidence had been published. Big error to mention Gilchrist at all. but if thye needed ot, really needed to he should have been listed as suspended pending his hearing. Big lesson there

    • yes, WR regs are clear – player is provisionally suspended from time of his card until the disc hearing. Hence the Leinster game should have counted (and IMHO would have had Edin not mucked up their squad announcement)

      • Agreed about Edinburgh but there again where is the synergy for want of a better word between SRU and Edinburgh, or Glasgow for that matter.
        As you have hinted at this wouldn’t have happened at the IRFU. As regards your suggestion of a ‘big lesson’ we can but hope, if you get my drift.

  7. I suggested in a previous post that the SRU should show a bit of backbone regarding questioning the delay, but seemingly nothing, just a somewhat world weary ‘it is what it is’ from Steve Tandy, at least he has given an indication that he is hacked off at the apparent incompetence.
    Why can’t the SRU ask for clarity, in the last World Cup the powers that be questioned an act of God yet seem unable to question a distinctly obvious lack of professionalism with a six day delay in the Disciplinary Panel announcing their judgment.
    The evidence of other Unions ‘playing’ the system have been well documented in this and other Media, what is it with the SRU that they seem content to accept the insult, for that is what it is from where I am observing the situation, ‘don’t worry, no need to apologise’: yes there is.
    On the assumption that the individual who is in charge is Dodson why doesn’t he show a similar belligerence toward the Rugby administrators as he has shown in the past, closer to home, no names, no pack drill.

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