Austin Healey: Bans show rugby world has gone mad

The World Cup has highlighted that there are some clear inconsistencies in the bans being handed out to players and it’s something that needs to be seriously looked at within the game. 

Samoa’s Alesana Tuilagi was given five weeks for running forward and lifting his knee – which everyone does. OK this has now been reduced to two weeks – but when Sean O’Brien gets just one week for blatantly punching someone in the stomach in open play you can’t work it out.

Scotland will also have to make do without Ross Ford and Jonny Gray after they were given three-week bans for dangerous tackles too and this inconsistency is damaging the sport. I know the powers that be are trying to clean up the game but it’s too much and it’s changing the game we all love into something else.

There is a huge danger in doing that, particularly with regard to participation numbers which could fall. Rugby is largely an alternative for people who don’t want to play football but if you make it too soft and too sterile the appeal won’t be there anymore.

Ireland can overcome injury blow but O’Brien ban was avoidable

Ireland will be without captain Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahoney, who miss out through injury, but they are a great rugby side and have lost those players before. You have to use situations like this to galvanise the players that are left and I hope they can do it again this time around.

There is a big decision to be made though and for me that centres around who to play at Fly Half. They’ve been monotonous with Johnny Sexton at number 10. He’s a great player and a leader and with them losing O’Connell, Joe Schmidt may be tempted to put him back in, but if he’s not fully fit that could be an issue.

Ian Madigan played really well when he came on and also kicked very well so I’d be tempted to start with him, particularly against an Argentina side who love to play the forward game and compete at the breakdown really hard.

If you play someone quicker and less predictable like Madigan then you can move the breakdowns around, up the tempo of the game and become a different proposition and a bit harder to defend against. That could be a vital decision for Ireland.

We now also know that O’Brien will miss out after being handed his ban for punching. He played incredibly well against France and Ireland will miss his physicality, his tackling and his ball carrying ability. He’s been one of their standout players.

They’ve now lost their captain, a senior back rower and O’Brien when they desperately need him and he will be hugely disappointed with himself.

Decision to recall Eli Walker to Wales squad is a strange one

The decision to recall Eli Walker is a weird one. You are replacing one injured player with another and it just shows how short Wales are because of injuries. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Shane Williams dusting off his boots ahead of the weekend.

Regardless of who they pick though, you’d have to say that if they get past South Africa anything is possible from there.

If Wales get to the final and win this thing with the injuries they’ve had it’ll be up there with the biggest achievements in rugby history, bettered only perhaps by Japan beating the Springboks.

If that does happen they can finally stop talking about Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams!

The Japan game showed that if you can play high tempo rugby against the Boks you can stop them. However, you have to break up their play first and the games since that loss have shown that’s easier said than done. The Japan result has helped them in a way as people have lowered their expectations of them but they have been excellent since and you have to be very wary of South Africa.

Underdog tag will ease pressure on Scotland but the task looks too big

At 6/1 few people expect Scotland to get a positive result against Australia but being underdogs will help them – it always does.

However, they’ve lost two players to unfair and unjust bans and while they will use that as motivation and they have a good defence, Australia are just too good on current form

My tips for the weekend

The odds suggest straightforward wins for South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland and Australia this weekend.

I have to agree with the markets as far as Australia and New Zealand are concerned but if I was having a four-fold bet this weekend I’d be tempted to bump up the odds by picking Wales and Argentina alongside the All Blacks and the Wallabies.

I think the biggest worry from a betting perspective would be Ireland. They have lost two stalwarts of their pack and are playing a very physical Argentina side who are incredibly difficult to play against.

I almost make Argentina favourites for that game. I really hope Ireland win though as we need at least one northern hemisphere side in the semis but Argentina are so strong at the minute.

I think France will scare New Zealand but not enough, Scotland will play very well against the Aussies but I can’t see them winning and finally I think Wales could actually beat the Springboks. So if you’re looking for an outside bet my advice would be: go for Wales and Argentina with New Zealand and Australia.

Ignoring the betting for a second, it’s wishful thinking but I’d love to see a Scotland v Ireland in the semis. I’d also love to see France v Wales. How good would it be to have Six Nations teams filling the last four spots?

I think I’ve got a better chance of seeing Elvis fly past on a pink pig, but that would be fantastic.

Here’s hoping.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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