Opinion: If you want to punch someone, take up MMA - not rugby

Luke Appleby
Source: 1News

OPINION: It seems like each week we're shown a new, shocking video of a fired up rugby player swinging a fist and sending their opponent headlong into the ground, semi-conscious with a fracture or two.

The most recent example was former Mate Ma'a Tonga player Pat Politoni , who knocked out Michael Parker-Walshe after receiving a small pat on the head, earning himself a three-match suspension in the process.

Bulls hooker Schalk Brits this week also received a four-week ban for a his part in a Super Rugby punch-up on Saturday.

Some will say that's case closed, but it highlights a disparity which is present both overseas and in New Zealand.

If you punch someone on the street, you're likely to end up in court facing assault charges - so why is it not the same in rugby?

Wouldn't such measures make players think twice about starting a fight?

Players who punch generally receive a suspension and/or a fine, but many also continue to train with their team while they serve their sentence.

Some are even still paid while they take time out, depending on their contract arrangements.

It's more of an inconvenience or a disappointment than a punishment, if we're being honest - especially when compared with the maximum penalty for common assault in a criminal court, which is a fine of up to $4000 or six months in prison, plus a criminal record which can affect your ability to travel.

It feels strongly like rugby bosses know fans don't mind seeing a fight or two - and that some relish them.

Perhaps they don't want to take those fights away completely - but they also don't want to appear to condone violence. It's a tough spot to be in, in 2019.

Why don't we just send offenders to court

—  Luke Appleby

There are exceptions, of course, with some on-field incidents leading to criminal proceedings.

One example was a 2011 incident in Sydney where club rugby player Richard West punched James Graves from behind, severely damaging his teeth, breaking his jaw and leading him to suffer from PTSD.

The judge awarded the victim $168,084 in 2015 - a large penalty which I'd wager would keep West from throwing a punch ever again.

Many fans look back longingly at the old days of all-in scraps, like the 1985 face-off between Kevin Tamati and Greg Dowling which spilled over onto the sidelines.

The "good old days", they'll reminisce. "Bring back the biffo."

Now forgive me, New Zealand, for raising this point, because I know rugby is something of a religion in this country, as is 'biffo', but if we really want to stop violence on sports fields, why don't we just send offenders to court?

Some will repeat that age-old catch cry: "What happens on the field stays on the field", but I'm not convinced it does. It more than likely encourages violent tendencies and spills out into street brawls and off-field retribution.

At the moment, kids watching rugby games and seeing the aftermath of fights are learning that attacking someone on the field is not career-ending - and not even season-ending.

Here's my advice: If you want to hit someone, take up boxing - not rugby. If you confuse the two, you should end up in court.

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