By Chris Hewett
No mercy. Not much, anyway. Sam Warburton, the Wales captain, was yesterday banned for three weeks for the tip-tackle on the French wing Vincent Clerc that resulted in his dismissal during the first World Cup semi-final at Eden Park on Saturday – an incident that led to the Red Dragons' one-point defeat. Those who felt Warburton might have escaped with 10 minutes in the cooler will be doubly distressed that he now misses Friday's bronze medal match with Australia at the same venue.
Widely considered to be among the half-dozen outstanding performers at this tournament, the Cardiff Blues flanker might have received a six-week ban, which would have prevented him playing in the opening two matches of his club's Heineken Cup campaign. His offence was judged to be in the "mid-range" category, which carries a minimum six-week suspension. However, Christopher Quinton QC, the judicial officer from England, gave him credit for admitting hitting Clerc with a dangerous tackle, his expression of remorse and "outstanding disciplinary record", halving the punishment as a result.
That gesture will be of no comfort to the Welsh squad, who, to a man, stood by their captain. But the outcome of the judicial hearing was broadly in line with recent punishments dished out by the International Rugby Board.
The Tongan wing Sukanaialu Hufanga copped five weeks for a tip-tackle in the match against France while one of Les Bleus' own backs, Fabrice Estebanez, was suspended for three weeks for a similar assault on lock Joe Tuineau in the same game. In addition, the Fijian flanker Dominiko Waqaniburotu was banned for three weeks after dropping South African full-back Patrick Lambie to the ground while Lekso Gugava, the Georgian wing, was given five weeks for a spear tackle on Argentina captain, Felipe Contepomi.
There was little sympathy from the French yesterday. The finalists' head coach, Marc Lièvremont, said: "People talk about injustice, but I've seen the footage and the red card is justified. The referee was consistent."
Lièvremont had another of his interesting days, tearing strips off some of his charges for defying an instruction not to celebrate after their semi-final victory. "I'd asked the players not to go out, and I told them what I thought of them," he said.
Having participated as a flanker in the 1999 campaign, when France also reached the final despite stresses and strains between coaches and players, Lièvremont reminded his players that on that occasion, the week of celebration at beating the All Blacks in a sensational semi-final cost Les Bleus dear when the even bigger contest came along. "I don't want us to relive this same thing," he said, meaningfully.Reuse content