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COMMENT: Johnny Sexton sanctions after ref abuse sets precedent in international rugby

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Johnny Sexton‘s slap on the wrist for the abuse of match officials sets a dangerous precedent in international rugby.

After he was found to have hurled abuse at South African referee Jaco Peyper and his assistants Karl Dickson, Christophe Ridley, and Tom Foley, he was only handed a three-match ban, making him eligible for Ireland’s Rugby World Cup.

He will only miss their warm-up matches that he probably would not have participated in as his workload has been managed ahead of the competition.

What makes this sentence so mind-blowing is that Sexton confronted the officials after a match — the Champions Cup final in Dublin — and did not do it via social media or in a 60-minute video.

He did this on the pitch while Peyper and his assistants waited for the medal ceremony after La Rochelle beat Sexton’s Leinster in front of their home fans on May 20.

To make matters more damning, Sexton was not part of the Leinster match-day squad for the game and had no business on the field with the match officials.

But still, he found his way to them to voice his opinion in alleged obscure language.

Now South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus was banned from rugby for almost a year for posting a video on referee Nic Berry’s officiating during the British and Irish Lions series.

Erasmus had absolutely no contact with Berry and his officials and also did not hurl obscenities at the officials.

From the testimony of Peyper and his assistants, at Sexton’s hearing, it also shows that the Irish flyhalf and captain followed the officials around on the field and tried to interact with them on a couple of occasions.

Dickson had to step between Sexton when he tried to get to Peyper after the match. When the officials moved to finally get their medals, Sexton was again spotted close to them with a little boy in tow, but this time he was quiet.

If this account, by all the match officials involved, does not scream for harsher punishment, then what does?

The following around of the officials shows how desperate he was to get to them. So how is it possible that he received such a light sentence?

Well, he is Irish and they are the number-one team in the world and a favourite at the World Cup.

And going to France2023 without their captain would probably not have been ideal for Ireland.

But a three-match ban won’t deter other players playing in the European Profession Club Rugby (EPCR) competitions from doing the same to a ref if they feel aggrieved by the officiating.

Just like World Rugby did with Erasmus, it was the perfect opportunity for the independent disciplinary committee to show how serious they are about stamping referee abuse out by handing down a harsher punishment.

And when he is playing, Sexton is known for shouting at the match officials. So what’s going to stop him from continuing that trend at the World Cup?

The EPCR has the right to appeal the sanction and can do so until Wednesday (this week).

But the question is, will they have the proverbial balls to do so to get a harsher punishment for the Irish flyhalf? I won’t bet my house on it.

Will Sexton continue shouting at match officials in games at the World Cup? Most definitely.

@Leighton_K

IOL Sport

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