‘Vindictive’ (Paul Ackford), ‘scapegoating’ (Austin Healey), ‘brutal’ (Mick Cleary, The Telegraph), ‘shambles’ (Mark Cueto)….however you’d term the record £25,000 fine and squad dismissal delivered last week to Mike Tindall by RFU professional rugby director Rob Andrew, it’s safe to say that this is not the way the player had intended to end his 11 year international career.
The man who led England for much of the past year in the absence of injured Lewis Moody, Tindall will now move from a position of seniority within the country’s elite player squad, to paying the ultimate price for being entrusted with the captaincy and setting an example of alcoholism and deceit in return.
The reaction of the RFU was in absolute contrast to Johnson’s near inaction in New Zealand at the time. The organisation claimed that Tindall‘s actions reached a level of misconduct that was unacceptable of a senior England player, amounting to a serious breach of the elite player squad code of conduct. This suggests, as former England coach Dick Best noted this week, that there must be far more to the events in New Zealand than the public have been made aware of, or such severe action would surely not have been taken. Or would it?
Was this not just a prime opportunity for RFU to make the ultimate statement by taking a player who, admittedly has done wrong, and choosing to ban him from a side which was, in reality, never again going to request his return?
It was always unlikely that Tindall’s name would feature in England’s 2012 team list; making an example of him was simply an opportunity for RFU to be seen to be taking control of the uncontrollable.
It is a sad day when a player who has earned 75 caps sees his international career ended by public annihilation. It’s an even sadder day when that player’s punishment is actually no more than an opportunity for RFU to stomp its feet and flex its muscles.
By invoking Tindall’s removal from the squad the RFU is seen to be punishing unacceptable behaviour, upholding the rules of the game off the field and communicating a powerful message to players and management alike. All of this is achieved without having to remove a player who will have any great impact on the future success of England rugby. Perhaps if it were Lewis Moody or Toby Flood in this scenario, it would be an entirely different end to the story.
Even more frustratingly than any of the above is the delayed reaction of the RFU in penalizing Tindall. The result of which is to ensure that the chaos which surrounds England rugby is remembered for just a few more weeks than was ever necessary. In fact it wasn’t until Andrew handed down such a ridiculously excessive penalty that I felt any shred of sympathy for Tindall; now I’m unsure which of the two I find more intolerable.
All in all the RFU has done a fantastic job of making an example of a player who is useless to the future of England rugby. Andrew meanwhile has attracted prolonged attention from the British media, made a mockery of the disciplinary system and probably put himself in the firing line along the way. Someone give the man a gold star.