The Wrap: Why SANZAAR must hold Frank Lomani accountable for ‘going back for his hat’


Last week, Justice Michael Lee dismissed the defamation action lodged by ex-public servant Bruce Lehrmann against Network Ten; a case that, for anyone living in Australia in the last two years, has been impossible to avoid.

In a matter that seemed to tarnish the reputation of almost every individual and organisation involved, with respect to the defamation action, Justice Lee succinctly honed in on Lehrmann’s fatal flaw, saying: “Having escaped the lion’s den, Mr Lehrmann made the mistake of going back for his hat.”

In other words, anybody who gets off scot-free or lightly for a crime they are guilty of committing, should count their blessings and keep their head down; not seek to stoke any further fires.

Two weeks ago, Drua halfback Frank Lomani had his ten-week suspension reduced by four weeks on account of his pleading guilty and other (unspecified) mitigating factors. Why any player should receive a discount for an early guilty plea for an act so clear-cut and blatantly dangerous is mystifying. What else was Lomani to do; deny it happened and plead not guilty?

Nevertheless, it would be reasonable to assume that a contrite Lomani was now working on maintaining his fitness, counting down the time until his return, keeping his head down in the process.

Frank Lomani of Fijian Drua leaves the field during the round seven Super Rugby Pacific match between Melbourne Rebels and Fijian Drua at AAMI Park, on April 05, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

In Suva watching Friday night’s action, Lomani was alerted to the fact that his image was displayed on TV monitors and the stadium screen. His response was to cock his elbow for the crowd, mirroring his act on Josh Canham.

Via this action, it appears that Lomani considers himself, not remorseful, but a victim. He isn’t. He attacked the head of a player using a technique so dangerous it is banned in the UFC – a sport where the purpose is to batter opponents into submission.

It was the kind of assault that, had it occurred on a public street, not a rugby pitch, could potentially have had Lomani facing serious criminal charges.

On Friday night I asked a SANZAAR representative for comment on Lomani’s action and whether or not the SANZAAR Foul Play Review Committee has the ability to re-open cases where an offender shows contempt for the suspension handed down, or demonstrates that any contrition communicated to the panel was offered only as a means to reduce the sentence, and wasn’t genuinely held.

If it does have this power, it should act immediately to hold Lomani to account for his actions. If it doesn’t, it should change its scope so it can.

To date, no response has been forthcoming.

The occurrence of head injury in rugby is a deadly serious matter. If not handled well it is an existential threat to the sport. It is well past time SANZAAR stepped up to the plate to show that it won’t allow the safety of players to be compromised and the game to be held to ridicule.

The Hurricanes gratefully took advantage of kind scheduling and got out of Suva with a 38-15 win. Conditions were still energy sapping, but playing in Suva at night is a totally different proposition to mid-afternoon in Lautoka.

Entering the final quarter 28-12 down, with the Hurricanes reduced to 13 men, the Drua turned up the heat. The visitors buckled but they never broke; Jordie Barrett making two key defensive plays before drilling an important penalty in the 73rd minute.

Once again the packed home crowd did themselves and the competition proud, and even if the Drua were unable to deliver, the Fijiana Drua provided plenty of thrills. They beat the Western Force 25-14, to make yet another Super W final, against the Waratahs, to be held next Sunday afternoon, at Ballymore.

Let’s hope there’s a bit more skill on display there than what there was down the road at Suncorp Stadium, where the Highlanders started with a baulk – inviting the Reds in for a soft opening try – before getting steadily worse from there.

There’s a gentleman’s agreement that dictates how post-match interviews go, but Liam Wright claiming that “the Highlanders are a great team” seemed to stretch credibility a bit too far.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

A list of nearly a dozen Highlanders running around in Dunedin club rugby over the weekend spells out their plight. With their support game and attacking breakdown all over the place, that lack of cohesion fed into a penalty count that saw them placed under continual pressure.

Many of those players need to be injected back in as soon as possible, otherwise an already bleak season is going to turn darker.

In that context it was hard to properly line up the Reds’ performance. Their error rate was high as well, but when the final score against any Kiwi franchise is 31-0, it’s hard to be too critical.

It was Suni Vunivalu who ended the match with a David Lynch-esque slow-motion finish; which felt like a fitting metaphor for what really was an unusual game of rugby.

Saturday saw the Blues impressively blow the Brumbies off Eden Park, by 46-7. Despite having ample territory and possession, the Brumbies uncharacteristically lacked composure and polish; and they were made to pay heavily for it.

The Blues were in a mean mood, stamping their physical presence defensively and offensively; no better illustrated by the way Caleb Clarke steamrolled through and over three defenders – Jonah Lomu-style – for his first-half try.

This was a total dismemberment, the extent of which will surely have shocked Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham. It should, however, serve as a helpful reminder for them in coming weeks, of the importance of intensity and total commitment to the physical contest.

The final match of the round was a cracker, the Western Force doing many things right, to emerge comfortable victors over the hapless Crusaders, 37-15, in Perth.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 20: Sevu Reece of the Crusaders reacts after losing the round nine Super Rugby Pacific match between Western Force and Crusaders at HBF Park on April 20, 2024, in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Janelle St Pierre/Getty Images)

Calm and well organised, committed in defence, showing good variation in their attack, and utilising a strong maul, this was the most complete Force performance in recent memory; almost certainly in part due to the injection of a number of experienced players.

Whether it will be enough to project them to a finals spot is another story, but a few more plays like the beautifully executed touchdown by Chase Tiatia in the 18th minute, will ensure that it will be plenty of fun watching them try.

What is there to say about the Crusaders this season that hasn’t already been said? Their new players are putting in the effort, but their performance levels are well below what was there before them.

Their older players – Moody, Franks, Crotty – are also putting in the effort, but age seems to have caught up. Their performance, too, is levels below what they were before.

For a side which is last on the ladder, their 25 tries conceded stacks up well; equal third-best in the competition. Unfortunately, it’s the meagre 23 tries scored that tells the bigger story.

This season there seems to have been a rash of players demonstrate poor knowledge of the laws of rugby, and this weekend again saw multiple instances.

In Suva, Drua fullback Ilaisa Droasese twice discovered his understanding of the law to be different than that of referee Paul Williams. Meanwhile, Noah Lolesio’s ridiculous goal-line drop kick directly to touch turned a poor half by the Brumbies into a disastrous one.

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Later, in Perth, Kurtley Beale, who showed some good touches on his return, remonstrated with match officials about a deliberate knock down; seemingly oblivious to the fact that it’s perfectly lawful to play the ball backwards, towards your own try-line.

Finally this week, to another head-scratching incident from the match in Suva. Not for the first time, viewers with a sharp eye on the TV clock will have noticed things jumping around at the end of the match.

A Hurricanes clearing kick went into touch at 79.23, at which point the clock changed to 79.18, then ran up to 79.31 before disappearing off the screen.

A few seconds later the clock reappeared, now showing 77.34. The Hurricanes were able to utilise what appeared on the surface to be two minutes of ‘extra time’ effectively, scoring a fifth, bonus point, try.

SANZAAR officials have previously communicated that the official time is kept separately to the time shown on stadium screens and TVs. There is no reason to believe that the match officials were operating to anything other than correct time.

But what does this say about the professionalism and integrity of Super Rugby, where fans (and players) are working off different, incorrect timing, that seemingly changes on a whim?

Last week saw confusion around application of the shot clock. No wonder. If the competition is incapable of transparently and accurately displaying a shot clock, then why not ditch the pretence altogether and simply leave it to the referee’s discretion?

Imagine two extra minutes being ‘found’ at the end of a close Super Rugby Final? All hell would break loose.

By comparison to competitions like the NFL and NBA, where use of the clock is an integral part of the game and accuracy is paramount, rugby – Super Rugby in particular – looks like a ‘Mickey Mouse’ operation.

Couple that with Lomani going back for his hat and running roughshod over the judiciary, and it’s hard to make a case which proves that theory wrong.

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