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 – an incident that led directly 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 his "outstanding character and disciplinary record", halving the punishment as a consequence.
That gesture will be of no comfort to the Welsh squad, who, to a man, stood by their captain in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's events and were equally supportive of him yesterday. But the outcome of the judicial hearing was broadly in line with previous punishments dished out as a result of the International Rugby Board's increasingly strong line on what it considers perilous forms of tackling.
The Tongan wing Sukanaialu Hufanga copped five weeks for a tip-tackle in the match against France – again on Clerc, who appears to be what might be called a serial tippee – while one of Les Bleus' own backs, Fabrice Estebanez, was suspended for three weeks for a similar assault on the lock Joe Tuineau in the same game. In addition, the Fijian flanker Dominiko Waqaniburotu was banned for three weeks after dropping the South African full-back Patrick Lambie to the ground while Lekso Gugava, the Georgian wing, was given five weeks for a spear tackle on the Argentina captain, Felipe Contepomi.
There was not a vast amount of sympathy from the French camp yesterday. "I think it was a fantastic rugby league tackle," said Dave Ellis, who made a playing career for himself in the 13-a-side code before building a big reputation as Les Bleus' defence strategist. "Unfortunately, we are not playing rugby league – we are playing rugby union. As soon as I saw it, I thought it was a sending-off." For his part, the finalists' head coach, Marc Lièvremont, told his audience that he had "a great time watching it again", adding: "People can talk about injustice, but I have seen the footage and the red card is justified. The referee was consistent."
Lièvremont, his relations with his players never entirely satisfactory at this tournament, had another of his interesting days, tearing strips off some of his charges for defying an instruction not to celebrate in a liquid fashion after their semi-final victory. "I went to bed in a bad mood because I'd asked the players not to go out, so we spoke about it this morning and I told them what I thought of them," he said, an enigmatic smile on his face throughout the address. "I told them they are a bunch of spoilt brats: undisciplined, disobedient, sometimes selfish, always complaining, always whingeing. It's been like this for four years. It seems to be our way of functioning. I also told them I have a lot of affection for them, but it's a shame they don't look after themselves."
Having participated as a flanker in the fraught 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 around. "I don't want us to relive this same thing," he remarked, meaningfully.Reuse content