Eye-gouging (rugby union)
Eye-gouging is a serious offence in rugby union where a player uses hands or fingers to inflict pain in an opponent's eyes. The game's laws refer to it as "contact with eyes or the eye area of an opponent" but such incidents are usually referred to as "eye-gouging" among players and in the media.
The laws of rugby union, as written by the International Rugby Board, define foul play as: "Anything a player does within the playing enclosure that is against the letter and spirit of the Laws of the Game. It includes obstruction, unfair play, repeated infringements, dangerous play and misconduct which is prejudicial to the Game". Specifically, they state that "A player must not do anything that is dangerous to the opponent".
IRB Regulations provide for punishment for contact with eyes or the eye area of an opponent.
Although this is usually called "eye-gouging" by the media, fans and players, the term "gouging" is not used in the IRB's laws or regulations, which do list degrees of gravity of the offence. The IRB themselves have used the term in a 2009 statement: "The IRB are firmly of the view there is no place in rugby for illegal or foul play and the act of eye-gouging is particularly heinous".
Scales of the offence
Following two separate high-profile test match incidents, involving Schalk Burger and Sergio Parisse, during the same week in June 2009, the IRB stated that it would review the sanction structure for this type of offence "in order to send out the strongest possible message that such acts will not be tolerated".
The regulations provide a scale of seriousness:
- Lower end: up to 12-week ban.
- Mid range: up to 18-week ban.
- Top end: greater than 24-week ban.
The maximum sanction is a 156-week (3 year) ban.
In the early days of rugby, eye gouging was commonplace and happened mainly in the scrum due to a lack of control by referees and the opportunity the scrum offered for players to commit foul play due to the way the scrum is formed. The rising amount of foul play involving eye gouging eventually lead to the founding of the Rugby Football Union to control rugby and to reduce the amount of foul play. Eye-gouging then began to disappear from the early game as the laws of rugby became stricter due to English public school students starting to play rugby. After then foul play including eye-gouging became largely unspoken of and rugby authorities often ignored complaints of eye-gouging. This was due to authorities expecting players to deal with it themselves as it was claimed to be part of the nature of the game and was often viewed as a joke. In 1992, Richard Loe made contact with Greg Cooper's eyes while playing in the National Provincial Championship and was banned for nine months after a nine-hour deliberation by the New Zealand Rugby Union's judicial committee. This was viewed by observers as a turning point in attitudes towards eye-gouging and punishments for eye-gouging became stricter. According to John Daniell, a New Zealand lock who played for nearly a decade in France, eye gouging is fairly common and considered "a way of life" in French rugby, where it is known as "la fourchette".
Sanctions for eye-gouging have been subject to debate by journalists and commentators, depending on interpretation by presiding disciplinary officers. Punishments in the Northern Hemisphere are seen by some journalists as being harsher than those for similar offenses seen in Southern Hemisphere countries. South African national coach, Peter de Villiers stated he did not believe that an eye-gouging incident for which Schalk Burger was yellow carded merited any punishment.
As well as many cases involving professional rugby union, the case of Clarence Harding, an amateur player, has received considerable coverage due to the extreme damage caused to his eye. Harding was left without sight in his right eye and can no longer play rugby, and the injury has affected his livelihood and has since had the eye removed due to the pain. Matt Iles, the player alleged to have injured Harding, was found not guilty by the RFU as they could not determine which player was responsible. However, Maidstone RFC were fined £2,000 and deducted 50 points after being found "guilty of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game". The incident was also investigated by Kent Police but no criminal charges were brought against Maidstone or Iles due to insufficient evidence.
On 2 October 2010, Gavin Quinnell suffered an eye injury during a game between Llanelli and Cross Keys, from which he lost the sight in his left eye. The incident was under investigation by the Welsh Rugby Union and Gwent Police, with the police arresting the perpetrator. However, the Crown Prosecution Service advised against prosecution, leading to the dropping of criminal charges, and the WRU eventually dropped its citing complaint, to the self-described shock of the Quinnell family, one of the most prominent in Welsh rugby.
An incident in the Rugby World Cup Final on 23 October 2011 has led the IRB to reevaluate its disciplinary procedures. France centre Aurélien Rougerie apparently made contact with the eyes of New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, who would later state that he had been "half-blinded" for the last few minutes of the match. The original camera angles provided by host broadcaster Sky NZ showed no apparent foul play, and Rougerie was not cited within the 36-hour window allowed by IRB rules at the time. Three days after the match, new Sky NZ footage emerged which showed Rougerie apparently raking his hand across McCaw's eyes. The IRB could not cite Rougerie outside the 36-hour window, and the exception allowed in its rules for "exceptional circumstances" did not include the emergence of new evidence. In December 2011 the IRB announced that it would reconsider its procedures to address similar situations in the future.
This is a list of cases where eye-gouging has been reported to have happened in top national league, European Rugby Cup or international level rugby union matches. It is shown in chronological order; international matches are highlighted. Players banned for contact with eyes or the eye area of an opponent as well as eye-gouging are included.
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- Bale, Steve (1992-10-09). "Loe banned for gouging". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2011-08-08.
- Gallagher, Brendan (2009-03-05). "Eye-gouging just a way of life in French rugby". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2011-08-08.
- Bills, Peter (2011-04-19). "Varying punishments for eye-gouging are baffling". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2011-08-08.
- Rees, Paul (4 May 2009). "Alan Quinlan fights gouging citation with Lions tour on the line". The Guardian (London).
- Austin, Simon (27 June 2009). "Burger 'gouge' angers Fitzgerald". BBC News.
- "Police investigate rugby match gouging incident which left player blind in one eye". Daily Mail (London). 31 January 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-11.
- "Blind eyes must not be turned". Planet Rugby. Retrieved 2010-05-06.
- Eykyn, Alastair (2010-05-06). "Player blinded in one eye after gouge speaks out". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-05-11.
- "Maidstone RFC 'tarnished' by RFU eye gouging ruling". BBC.co.uk. 10 April 2011. Retrieved 12 April 2011.
- "Disappointment as Kent rugby player cleared of gouging". BBC.co.uk. 24 November 2010. Retrieved 24 November 2010.
- "Maidstone RFC fined over eye gouging". BBC.co.uk. 13 January 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
- "Kent club Maidstone RFC charged over eye gouging". BBC News. 15 December 2010.
- "Gavin Quinnell loses sight in his left eye". BBC.co.uk. 7 October 2010. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
- "Quinnell family's shock over sight loss ruling". BBC Sport. 4 April 2011. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
- "McCaw breaks eye-gouge silence". ESPN Scrum. 6 December 2011. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- "IRB ponder disciplinary overhaul". ESPN Scrum. 8 November 2011. Retrieved 6 December 2011.
- Paul, Gregor (2006-04-16). "Infamous acts of rugby violence". NZ Herald. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- "Nones' Colomiers teammates air their support". ESPN Scrum. 1999-12-11. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- "Springbok pair banned". BBC News. 2003-08-03.
- Walsh, David (2008-12-28). "Return of the gouge". The Times (London).
- "Larrechea suspended for six weeks". BBC Sport. 2007-02-08. Retrieved 2010-11-12.
- Mairs, Gavin (2009-06-28). "Lions 2009: Eye-gouging still blights the game despite hefty suspensions". Telegraph.co.uk (London). Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- "Dylan Hartley's wind-up fear". London Evening Standard. 2009-06-12. Retrieved 2010-11-21.
- "Bergamasco sorry for Byrne gouge". BBC Sport. 2008-03-01. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- "Rabeni loses eye-gouging appeal". BBC Sport. 2008-04-10. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- "Du Plessis hit by three-week ban". BBC Sport. 2008-07-13. Retrieved 2010-11-12.
- Henderson, Mark (1 October 2008). "Neil Best banned for 18 weeks after 'eye-gouging' James Haskell". London: timesonline.co.uk.
- Rees, Paul (2009-01-29). "Tincu a suitable case to be rugby's version of Bosman". London: Guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- "Corry handed six-week suspension". BBC Sport. 2009-02-13. Retrieved 2010-04-29.
- "Azam guilty of eye 'gouging'". Telegraph.co.uk. 2009-05-08. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- Cleary, Mick (2009-05-13). "Alan Quinlan to miss Lions tour after 12-week ban for eye gouging". Telegraph.co.uk (London). Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- "Italy captain suspended for eye gouging". Stuff.co.nz. 2009-06-28. Retrieved 2009-06-29.
- "Burger: I'm not a thug". sport24.co.za. 2 July 2009.
- "Leinster's Shane Jennings gets 12-week ban for eye-gouging England ace Nick Kennedy". London: Daily Mail. 14 October 2009.
- Rees, Paul (2009-12-18). "Julien Dupuy gets six-month ban for eye-gouging". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-11-21.
- "Stade Francais prop David Attoub banned for 70 weeks". BBC Sport. 19 January 2010. Retrieved 19 January 2010.
- "Leguizamon landed with 80-day ban". ESPN Scrum. 2010-09-16. Retrieved 2010-11-12.
- "Ban rules Wales' Richie Rees out of Six Nations". BBC Sport. 2011-01-06. Retrieved 2011-01-06.
- "England & Sale winger Mark Cueto given nine-week ban". BBC Sport. 2011-04-11. Retrieved 2011-04-12.
- "Rugby World Cup 2011: Ghiraldini banned for eye gouging". BBC Sport. 2011-10-04. Retrieved 2011-10-04.