SANZAAR say Quirk hit Stewart with "a sucker punch"

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

It was labelled a "love tap" by Brad Thorn but Sunwolves flanker Ed Quirk was banned for two weeks because he hit Reds' flyhalf Hamish Stewart with an unprovoked "sucker punch", according to the SANZAAR judiciary.

That was the reasoning laid out by SANZAAR's Foul Play Review Committee on Tuesday, in a document explaining why Quirk had been rubbed out for an controversial incident that saw the former Queensland flanker red-carded.

Quirk was sent from the field by referee Ben O'Keefe for striking Stewart in the face, which was initially picked up by the TMO.

The red card was widely ridiculed as one of the softest ever, with Reds coach Brad Thorn labelling the punch as a "nothing" and All Blacks star Beaudan Barrett talking for many when he said the decision was "a joke".

SANZAAR said on Monday they want an overhaul of the problematic TMO system but that acknowledgement came just hours after they'd whacked Quirk had been given a further punishment of a two week suspension by the SANZAAR judiciary.

In explanatory notes, the judiciary panel of Nigel Hampton, John Langford and Stefan Terblanche summarised Quirks evidence as the following: "After bringing the opponent to ground in a legitimate tackle, he “put his closed hand  firmly” on the opponent’s face for a couple of seconds  as he was getting up. With hindsight, he regretted his act, accepted his responsibility and apologised to his  opponent after the match."

But the panel highlighted the fact Quirk had struck Stewart "unprovoked" and while the Queenslander was pinned to the ground.

"To the FPRC, the Player’s evidence, although accurate, was secondary to the preceding deliberate and unnecessary action by him (unprovoked in any way), bringing his right hand, with closed fist, down on to his opponent’s face – something of a “sucker punch”," the judgement read. 

"It may not have been a “full” punch as such, but it was still a strike by the Player on his trapped opponent’s head."

Quirk will serve his ban in two pre-season games for his Japanese club Canon Eagles.

Caleb Timu's suspension, which was also for two weeks despite his offence seeming more serious, was also explained by the FPRC.

Further highlighting the questionable level of seriousness attached to the Quirk offence, Timu was found to have dived into a Sunwolves player on the ground and "his right shoulder came into contact,  with some force, to the head of the opponent."

Timu escaped with a yellow card but was cited.

That "reckless or dangerous" offence, however, was classed as mid-range and started with an entry point of a four week suspension - the same as Quirk's punch.

Timu was given a two-week deduction for a guilty plea, contrition and a good record.