The sanctions handed down by the RFU to Chris Ashton, James Haskell and, most importantly, Mike Tindall have almost come as a bit of a shock to many as the issue, to my mind, was dead and buried long ago.
From the looks of the statement given along with the verdict, it seems as if England’s rugby governing body wants to draw a line under everything that happened in Queenstown. Ironic that it is likely to bring more negative press their way because of it.
What happened off the pitch in New Zealand did stain the reputation of England immensely, and was probably more talked about than the rugby. It will often be referred back to whenever possible, much like Harlequins and “bloodgate” often is.
Having already looked at my Twitter feed, and @therugbyblog, it seems that some are a little surprised at the severity of Tindall’s punishment. £25,000 is no small sum and being banished from the England squad is also a hefty call.
The RFU’s argument is that they need to set an example, but I’m having a major problem trying to work out how Tindall’s conduct was much worse than Ashton or Haskell’s. Fair enough, going out and getting plastered is far from a good idea during a World Cup, but how drunk was he? We will never know as the message has been blurred so much by British newspapers intent on causing as much disruption as possible. It seems that they have unconsciously had a large say in how much the man from Gloucester should be reprimanded.
It’s convenient as well that Tindall is close to retirement. You do wonder whether it would have been the same result had he been five years younger. No one saw him as coming back into the set-up so, in essence, it is an empty punishment.
While everyone is focusing on Tindall, Haskell and Ashton’s punishments should not go unnoticed. Although they seem to have fallen on their swords by letting Dylan Hartley walk away a little less blemished, it was a hugely damaging move to make considering all the negative coverage already flying around.
As entertaining as the O2 videos were during the World Cup, they did seem like a couple of wideboys looking to bring as much attention to themselves as possible. Big characters are needed for teams, but there is a fine line and it seemed like the pair were overstepping it on occasions and the incident in the hotel seems to have proven that.
None of us were involved in the England camp, and none of us really know what happened, but looking at the decisions made, it seems that all members of the Elite Playing Squad are equal, but some are more equal than others.