Julien Dupuy, the Stade Français scrum-half suspended for almost six months for gouging the Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris during a Heineken Cup pool match in Belfast 10 days ago, is to appeal against the severity of his punishment, thereby reopening the debate over rugby's deadliest sin and the best means of combating it – a debate that started during last summer's Lions tour of South Africa when the Springbok Schalk Burger received an eight-week ban for making contact with the eye of Luke Fitzgerald.
Lawyers acting for Dupuy will raise the motives of the judicial officer Judge Jeff Blackett, who openly admitted he was making "an example of the player for the wider benefit of the game". This has infuriated the top brass at the goal-kicking half-back's club, who have plastered Blackett's comment all over their website.
At last Friday's initial hearing, the judge gave Dupuy credit for an early plea of guilty to the gouging charge, the urgency with which he apologised to Ferris after the game and his excellent disciplinary record. However, Blackett decided he could not give the player a full 50 per cent reduction from the "appropriate" suspension period of 40 weeks because the recent surge in gouging incidents had established the need for a deterrent.
A number of international players – the England hooker Dylan Hartley, the Ireland flankers Alan Quinlan and Shane Jennings, and the Italian No 8 Sergio Parisse, who by coincidence also plays his club rugby alongside Dupuy at Stade – have been convicted of gouging in recent seasons, but there has been little consistency in the punishments. Hartley was barred from rugby for six months; Parisse for a third of that time; the Irishmen for 12 weeks apiece. But the real fuss was generated by the leniency of Burger's ban, which persuaded the sport's supreme governing body, the International Rugby Board, to order a worldwide crackdown on such offences.
Dupuy has received a good deal of support in his homeland, where individuals banned for offences committed in Heineken Cup rugby have more than once been permitted to continue playing in the domestic Top 14 championship, much to the IRB's disgust. Max Guazzini, the media magnate who gives Stade their financial muscle, described Blackett's judgement as "excessive, very political and anti-French".
Dupuy's national coach, Marc Lièvremont, also let his feelings be known. "I hope Julien's punishment is adjusted to something more reasonable," said the former flanker, who as things stand has lost an important player for the Six Nations Championship. "I have mixed feelings, because a player has a duty to set an example when it comes to discipline and violence – all the more when he is an international and a leader. It's normal that Julien was punished, but the punishment was extremely heavy. Six months in the career of a player is enormous."Reuse content