Of the many talking points that have come out of the Six Nations thus far, one of the sourer ones has been the debate surrounding disciplinary procedures. Two incidents have particularly caught the eye.
The first everyone knows. Cian Healy stamps on Dan Cole's ankle, with flagrant disregard for where the ball is, purely to try and hurt him. For this he was handed a three-week ban, of which the start was pushed back by a week after the disciplinary panel realised he probably wouldn't play over the first weekend anyway.
He was then named in the Leinster team for exactly that weekend. In the end, a quiet word was had in someone's ear and he didn't play, but the fact that he almost did a week after the incident makes a mockery of the system in itself.
News surfaced last week that Healy was going to appeal the ban; amongst other things the fact that it had been pushed back a week, meaning he would miss two rather than just one Six Nations match. Yesterday, his appeal was heard and upheld, meaning his ban will now end a week earlier and he will be available for both of Ireland's remaining Six Nations games.
The other incident involves Sergio Parisse, who received a 30 day ban for using inappropriate language on the pitch, and subsequently arguing with the referee. Undoubtedly, there is no place for bad language or abuse of officials in rugby. The respect that players show to the men in charge is a pillar upon which the spirit of rugby stands, and Parisse has quite rightly been punished for his outburst.
However, to say that he deserves a longer ban than Healy is quite simply ludicrous. Healy could have ended Cole's career. It was an act of thuggery, while Parisse merely lost his head in a moment of madness. And yet the Italian is the one who won't play again in the Six Nations.
Within the letter of the law, the decision regarding Healy is absolutely correct. His ban was three weeks, and there is no reason why he should have to sit out an extra week on top of that. The question this raises is 'Why are players being banned for a number of weeks rather than a number of games?' There is no obvious answer. Had Healy been banned for three of four games, everyone would have known where they stood.
Sadly, this is not the only instance in which the system has failed recently. Andrew Hore, the New Zealand hooker, was banned for five weeks in the autumn for blatantly striking Wales lock Bradley Davies. His ban, however, included pre-season matches, which means he only misses two competitive games. For an obvious punch to the head, which left Davies concussed, that is ridiculous.
Such lenient punishments make somewhat of a mockery of the system. As has been said before, professional rugby players live on the edge. They are pumped up and aggressive. However, there must be suitable sanctions that more strongly dissuade them from stepping over the line.
The reality is that Cian Healy has missed one match after trying to break a player's ankle. In this instance, the punishment most certainly does not fit the crime.