Whether or not the New Zealand Sevens side ‘inadvertently’ fielded an eighth player against Australia is completely immaterial, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
On Thursday, World Rugby confirmed that no action would be taken against the Kiwis for their 'slip-up' in fielding an extra player in a crucial pool game against the hosts at last weekend’s Sydney Sevens.
The outcry from around the rugby world has been swift and merciless, but also completely understandable.
In explaining its reasoning behind the decision to effectively absolve New Zealand of any responsibility, World Rugby said the mishap had been an 'inadvertent breach as a consequence of a number of factors relating to the management of replacements involving a number of parties’.
I don’t buy into the conspiracy theories suggesting New Zealand intended to sneak an extra player onto the field, with all eight players going on to play a role in a decisive match-levelling try against Australia, but it’s an error that should not have escaped recourse.
In fact, I’m quite sure the New Zealanders have been extremely embarrassed by the whole matter, and various videos and internet memes have popped up to point out the eight players on the field, while giving rise to the #NZ8s Twitter trend.
I also simply don’t understand why it matters if the error was ‘inadvertent’. The fact remains New Zealand mistakenly fielded eight players. They enjoyed an unfair advantage and went on to secure a result that influenced the course of proceedings on the decisive final day of action.
Regardless of whether New Zealand meant to field the extra player, that’s what happened. Ultimately, their coaches and personnel responsible for substitutions have to be held accountable.
The error was a significant one that brought the World Rugby Sevens Series into disrepute, and in some way altered the course of events at the tournament.
In that regard, I can’t fathom World Rugby’s assertion that the misconduct process for ‘unsporting actions, cheating and ill-discipline [among other behaviours], which are at a level that bring or have the potential to bring the game into disrepute’, did not meet the threshold for a charge.
Again, regardless of whether or not it was an ‘inadvertent’ error, New Zealand should have faced some sort of punishment in the form of a fine, or even a docking of points in the series standings.
Considering the nature of the error, I suspect New Zealand might well have even honourably and humbly accepted such a sanction.
What might have been a mitigating factor is the suggestion that it was the match officials who should have been responsible for managing the replacements and ensuring such an error could never happen.
However, considering the helter-skelter nature of sevens, I’m more inclined to have some sympathy for those officials, who may well have been preoccupied with on-field matters. Yet, if there is a designated official who is liable, then where is the statement confirming he will be held responsible?
At the end of the day, someone has to be accountable for such an error going unnoticed until well after the match. A dangerous precedent has also now been set in terms of allowing New Zealand to get away with this breach simply because it happened ‘inadvertently’ and because it was not picked up on prior to the conclusion of the match.
Strong and decisive action was required, and yet, there has been none. What a shame.
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