Outrage as officials turn a blind eye to gouging

New Zealand's Owen Franks (left) will be free to play for the remainder of the All Blacks' Rugby Championship campaign, after escaping punishment for making contact with the eyes of Australia lock Kane Douglas during the 29-9 victory against the Wall
New Zealand's Owen Franks (above) will be free to play for the remainder of the All Blacks' Rugby Championship campaign, after escaping punishment for making contact with the eyes of Australia lock Kane Douglas during the 29-9 victory against the Wallabies in Wellington on Saturday.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

LONDON • The failure of Rugby Championship match officials to cite Owen Franks for appearing to make contact with the eyes of an opponent has drawn criticism from leading figures in the game.

Brian O'Driscoll, the former Ireland captain, described the decision as an "absolute sham" after the New Zealand prop escaped punishment despite his clash with Kane Douglas during the All Blacks' 29-9 victory on Saturday.

Michael Cheika, the Australia coach, had expected action to be taken after the clash at a maul during the first half in Wellington.

"We saw it at the time. It would be pretty hard for the match review guy to miss," he said.

World Rugby laws state that a player cannot make "contact with the eye area," while two different angles suggest Franks touched Douglas' eyes on one occasion, then grabbed him around the neck seconds later.

A new video of the incident emerged on Sunday that shows Franks clearly making contact with Douglas' eyes.

But Sanzar, the Rugby Championship's organisers, found that Franks had no case to answer and Steve Hansen, the New Zealand coach, defended his player.

"You've got to be really careful until you see all the views," he said.

According to World Rugby regulations, a team can refer incidents from a match to the citing commissioner for investigation, for up to 12 hours after the match.

However, on this occasion the visitors did not make an official complaint. It is understood this was because they were convinced Sanzar would pull up Franks for the alleged foul play.

Franks will now be free to play for the remainder of the All Blacks' Rugby Championship campaign.

World Rugby, the game's governing body, has made it a priority to clamp down on gouging recently.

Tomas Francis, the Wales prop, was banned for eight weeks for making contact with Englishman Dan Cole's face during the Six Nations Championship.

Chris Ashton, the Saracens wing, was given a 10-week suspension for a similar offence during a European Champions Cup game against Ulster in January.

O'Driscoll tweeted: "This is an absolute sham @WorldRugby???! Makes a mockery of citing. If nothing comes of this it's a farce."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2016, with the headline 'Outrage as officials turn a blind eye to gouging'. Print Edition | Subscribe