The long and drawn out trial of Johnny Sexton has finally finished, much to the relief of Leinster and Ireland, with the objectively lenient - and convenient - punishment of a three match ban, for "misconduct was confrontational, aggressive, and disrespectful of the match officials."
The decision and the documents from the hearing have brought with them further arguments and scrutiny, as fans and pundits pour over Disciplinary Committee's wordings..
Regardless of your opinion on the decision, the Committee's reasoning has been laid out clearly, with five mitigating factors halving a potential ban of six weeks, and quite possibly saving Sexton's and Ireland's World Cup.
The Mitigation That Saved Johnny Sexton
I feel sorry for the supporting Irish fans who have watched Johnny Sexton for many years playing for his country, and now won’t get a chance to see him play on Irish soil before the World Cup. He has grown the game globally for nearly two decades, and IMO the ban seems harsh…
— Stephen Ferris (@StephenFerris6) July 17, 2023
The first and most important mitigating factor was Johnny Sexton's admission of guilt, and telling the Committee that he did use expletives towards the match referees.
While, this admission could have potentially backfired, it went in his favour as you can read below:
His early admission of Misconduct, without which there would be no proof of any of the words he used in Incident 1. His candour went some way towards establishing the extent of the Misconduct against him. That said, we found against him on Incident 2.
Three of the other mitigating factors put forward are more common and easier to understand, and they acknowledge Sexton's 'excellent' disciplinary record, his show of 'genuine' remorse, and the character references that were put forward:
His disciplinary record is excellent.
We do accept he feels what is properly characterised as remorse and not self-
pity and that is it genuine.
The content of the character references to which we had appropriate regard.
Kinda strange the anti Leinster/Ireland posts on the Johnny Sexton ban.
Why would anyone wish a player that has done so much for the game miss a World Cup?
Even worse so much of the negativity is from leading Irish rugby accounts, not surprised by the foreign contingent.
— Joe Naughton (@JoeNaConnacht) July 17, 2023
Lastly, the third mitigating factor laid out in the report referred to a phone call between Sexton and Tony Spreadbury, the EPCR’s head of match officials.
Sexton was also accused of having words with Spreadbury after the match - although this was not one of the three incidents that he was under investigation for - and texted Spreadbury on May 22 to apologise for his actions, after which Spreadbury gave him a call.
Spreadbury believed that it was a personal apology for himself, but Sexton meant it as an apology for all of his conduct on the day of the Champions Cup final.
He apologised to TS. We accept JS was intending to and believed he had apologised for “his conduct on Saturday” which in his mind included what we have called Incident 1.
Until the hearing he had not apologised directly to any match official. Then it was done through his Counsel. Even if he was told not to contact them directly, he could still have found another route to apologise before now.