Jonathan Davies: Henson's punishment for a crime of passion is too harsh to fit the facts

Henson acted instinctively to being illegally obstructed
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The Independent Online

That is ludicrously harsh, and smacks more of vengeance than justice. It looks to be a case of the authorities flexing their muscles by making a high-profile example of someone as a warning to others - and, given his playboy image, few profiles come as tempting as Henson's.

But his record shows no previous inclination towards misconduct, and for a first offender the punishment meted out to him bears no relation to the severity of the offence. It provides yet another instance of the worrying inconsistencies we are seeing in the citing and disciplining of errant players.

Not for one minute do I condone what Henson did, but there were enough mitigating circumstances involved for the disciplinary panel to have been much less harsh. They would have made their point with a five-week ban, or by sticking to 10 weeks but suspending half of it conditional on Henson's behaviour during the rest of the season.

Some have made comparisons with the lack of disciplinary action against the perpetrators of the double spear tackle which put the Lions captain, Brian O'Driscoll, out of the New Zealand tour this year, but there are better examples closer to home. The French captain, Fabien Pelous, received nine weeks for a far more cynical and deliberate elbowing; South Africa's Jon Smit collected six weeks for actually leading with his elbow in a tackle on France's Jérôme Thion; and the England flanker Lewis Moody got seven weeks after he ran yards to fling punches during the Samoa game in November.

What Henson did was to react instinctively to being illegally obstructed by Moreno. It was wrong, but it was a heat-of-the-moment act under extreme provocation and deserves to be treated accordingly. It worries me that those sitting in judgement have a lack of feel for what is going on in a game and fail to understand the pressures and passions at work.

The ban was imposed by a European Rugby Cup disciplinary committee consisting of two Scottish RFU members and one from the Irish RFU. I wouldn't dream of questioning their integrity, but it's a bit odd that two of the Six Nations games Henson will miss are against Scotland and Ireland. Perhaps the ERC should be more careful in selecting their panels, and also recognise the danger in teams playing back-to-back ties. With only a week between the games, feeling is bound to be carried over from the first to the second.

In the first match, Henson was targeted for attention both verbally and physically. But that is part and parcel of the game, and he would have expected it after all the adverse publicity he has had for his off-field activities.

Like so many props, Moreno can be a nuisance, and so he proved to be in that first game. He carried on in the same vein in the return match, and the last straw was when he took Henson out a yard from the ball. Henson's retaliation was one of sheer frustration. He wasn't even looking as he lashed out with his arm at Moreno, but he couldn't have been more accurate if he'd fired his elbow out of a gun. The result was a direct hit on Moreno's face, which broke his nose in bloody fashion.

If the blow had been a few inches higher or lower the offence would not have been as dramatic and not regarded as so serious. Most players watching would have said that the prop had it coming.

The game needs players of Henson's ability, and it certainly doesn't need them to be continually taken off the ball in that manner. What Moreno did to Henson was illegal, and he has got away with it. Henson is the one who is paying the massive penalty - as are Ospreys and Wales.

Players, especially the skilful ones, have to look after themselves. In my day a little bit of quiet retaliation was possible, but the presence of so many cameras now makes this more difficult. The fact remains, if the game won't protect you, you have to protect yourself.

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