As has been all too common for England fans, players, and coaches alike in recent months, the anxious wait for a disciplinary hearing verdict rears its head once more as Tom Curry becomes the latest player to face a judicial committee with his hearing date set for Tuesday 12 September.
Curry was shown a yellow card by referee Mathieu Raynal two minutes into England’s Rugby World Cup opening fixture against Argentina that was later upgraded to a red card by the Foul Play Review Officer.
The flanker’s challenge on Argentina full-back Juan Cruz Mallia resulted in a clash of heads and both parties requiring medical attention.
Despite being reduced to 14 players for the majority of the match, Steve Borthwick’s team achieved a memorable 27-10 win over the Pumas in which fly-half George Ford provided all of England’s points, including three drop goals.
Similar tackling incidents resulting in bans of late for teammates Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola in World Cup warm-up fixtures have left them unavailable for the start of England’s campaign in France with Farrell missing the first two fixtures, and Vunipola unavailable to play for the first pool match.
Curry’s was the eighth card England have been given in their last six matches, with the list now made up of four red cards and four yellow, however, Freddie Steward’s red against Ireland in the Six Nations earlier in the year was rescinded.
Law 9.13 states: “A player must not tackle an opponent early, late or dangerously. Dangerous tackling includes, but is not limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders.”
The minimum ban for an offence contrary to law 9.13 when head contact has been made starts at the mid-range point of six matches.
After this point, a positive character reference including showing remorse for the action can reduce the ban by further matches, as was the case for both Farrell and Vunipola. For Farrell, this resulted in a two-match reduction while Vunipola was given a three-week reduction.
The other means by which a ban can be reduced even further is through the completion of the World Rugby Coaching Intervention Programme.
Often referred to as ‘tackle school’, the programme allows participants to reduce their ban by a further match, but may only be attended once in a career.
As Farrell had been to tackle school once already before his most recent offence, this option was no longer available to him. For Vunipola, and now Curry, both were able to attend the programme, having never taken part before.
As with Vunipola, this could result in Curry receiving a six-match ban reduced to two through the combination of the two methods mentioned above, which would see him miss England’s next pool-stage fixtures against Japan and Chile.
England will seek the most favourable outcome when the Sale Sharks player heads to Paris to attend the independent disciplinary hearing, and the team’s lawyer Richard Smith KC may once more prove his worth to the team.
Factors that England may consider raising at the hearing in defence of Curry include other similar incidents that occurred over the weekend but received lesser punishments. The independent judiciary panel of Adam Casselden SC (Australia) and former players John Langford (Australia) and Jamie Corsi (Wales) will decide the flanker’s fate.
The other incidents include a tackle on Scotland’s Jack Dempsey made by South African back Jesse Kriel, who didn’t receive a card and is yet to be cited, and another tackle that resulted in head contact by Chile’s captain Martin Sigren who was shown a yellow card against Japan.
With the return of Vunipola imminent, England will still have options in the pack despite the probable absence of Curry. Vunipola will be able to fill the No 8 role which could see a possible return to the openside for Ben Earl who donned the No 8 shirt in the place of his absent Saracens teammate against Argentina.
England face Japan at Stade de Nice on 17 September in their second Pool D fixture and currently sit second in the table behind Japan, who picked up a bonus point for scoring more than four tries against Chile.
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