Haskell gets three weeks for punching Downey

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James Haskell of the Highlanders (in green) picks up a 3 week suspension from rugby following his assault on Justin Downey of the Toyota Cheetahs. Photo by Rugby15

The SANZAR Duty Judicial Officer Mike Heron has accepted a guilty plea from James Haskell of the Highlanders for contravening Law10.4 (a) Punching or Striking after he was Cited during a Super Rugby Match at the Weekend. Haskell struck Cheetahs player Justin Downey twice as he left a scrum that was being completed, with a scuffle breaking out between several players following the incident.

Haskell has been suspended from all forms of the game for three weeks to and including Saturday 19 May 2012.

The incident occurred in the 33rd minute of the match between the Cheetahs and Highlanders at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on the 28th April.

SANZAR Duty Judicial Officer Mike Heron assessed the case.

In his finding, Mike Heron ruled the following:

James Haskell was cited for punching in the Highlanders v Cheetahs match on 28 April 2012 in Bloemfontein. He was given a yellow card on the field, and the incident was referred to the citing commissioner (white card).  The matter came to me as Duty JO. After reviewing the relevant material (including the match footage, footage on the SANZAR intranet, citing report, match officials report and a medical report), I followed the Duty JO process via telephone calls with the player, his lawyer and other Highlanders personnel. 

At the end of that process, I gave an indication of penalty of 3 weeks’ suspension.  After having time to consider that, the player accepted that suspension. Accordingly, James Haskell is suspended from all forms of the game for the 3 weeks to and including Saturday 19 May 2012 (that includes three scheduled Super Rugby matches).

My reasons are as follows: 

The citing alleged that James Haskell punched the Cheetahs number 7 (Justin Downey) twice, the first with his right hand to Downey’s head (after being held and retaliating) and the second with a left jab in the face.  The citing alleged that the second resulted in Downey going down on his haunches holding his face. The footage confirmed that, and Haskell accepted that he had punched the Cheetahs player twice.  The citing report also stated that Downey received stitches for a gash on his eyebrow. That was confirmed by the medical report.

I discussed the incident with the player, his lawyer and Highlanders personnel.  It was immediately accepted that the conduct did amount to foul play. There were two punches as described in the citing in a very short timeframe, at least the second of which appeared to connect forcefully, and one or other must have caused the injury to the Cheetahs player. I accept, and the footage confirms, that Haskell was responding to provocation in that he was being held into the dissembling scrum (unlawfully it seems) and it appeared that he was being grabbed in a particularly sensitive area. The player agreed that this did not excuse his conduct, but it was submitted and I accept that it was some explanation for the loss of control that occurred. That said, there was no argument that the conduct was unacceptable.

In the circumstances I find that the conduct was intentional, repeated and dangerous, but in the context of what appeared to be significant provocation.  I find the conduct warrants an entry point of mid-range.  The appropriate starting point in my view is five weeks’ suspension (IRB Regulation 17 Appendix 1).

The injury to the player and the repeated punches are an aggravating factor which warrant an increase of one week in my view, making a penalty of six weeks suspension. In mitigation, Haskell immediately accepted his conduct was unacceptable. He apologised to the Cheetahs player and to me. He expressed significant remorse for his conduct, in particular for the impact it would have on his team. Haskell has a very impressive record over a period of approximately 10 years of professional rugby. I was told that he has no previous citings and has received only a single yellow card in his professional career (which was not for foul play). He has dealt with serious provocation in the past without resort to this unacceptable conduct. He is passionate about his commitment to the Highlanders and expressed sincere regret as to the impact this would have on his time with them. His coach spoke in support of his character and I accept the submissions on his behalf. He received a yellow card, which in turn adversely impacted on the Highlanders during the game (and is some penalty).

To recognise and acknowledge the immediate guilty plea, his impressive record and the sincere remorse shown I am prepared to reduce the sanction by a period of three weeks, resulting in an ultimate sanction of three weeks.

Accordingly, James Haskell is suspended from all forms of the game for the three weeks to and including Saturday 19 May 2012.

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