The reports, video captions and the back-and-forth debates by the moralists and experts on this site and elsewhere refer to Scott Higginbotham having wantonly kneed and head butted Richie McCaw.
Having missed the live match I was curious to see what the fuss was about.
After looking at three different video clips I realised they differed in how much time they covered. That difference in time involves actions that are critical to understanding what happened – not just an alternative interpretation of the event.
To get a better sense of the details I watched the action in slow motion and frame by frame from the beginning. The whole incident starts at 25:13 with Higginbotham standing up in the left of the screen.
The more inflammatory clips start at 25:17 where Higginbotham appears to step forward and knee McCaw in the side of the head. The missing four seconds are critical to understanding what actually happened – unless, of course you’ve made up your mind, and evidence is bothersome.
The clip that follows shows 25:13 – 25:40 which includes the ref’s post incident chat with McCaw and Higginbotham:
Here is the timeline starting at 25:13:
– Higginbotham (#6) stands up (left in frame) – partly obscured by Jane (#14) and Smith (#9);
– H’B turns and moves toward Hooper(#7) and McCaw (#7) – maybe to help Hooper up;
– Hooper pushes off of McCaw’s shoulder to get up;
– Higginbotham approaches McCaw with extended hand to assist McCaw with getting up;
– Higginbotham hesitates, right foot planted by McCaw’s right shin, arm still extended;
– McCaw does not notice or ignores the extended hand;
– Higginbotham steps to left away from McCaw toward referee (see white tape on thigh);
– McCaw rotates to left – right leg rolls closer to H’B’s right foot;
– Higginbotham turns head left slightly away from McCaw;
– Higginbotham steps with right leg – foot catches on McCaw shin/knee;
– McCaw rolling further to left and Higginbotham’s ‘trip’ plausibly (but not definitively) leading to knee-head contact;
– McCaw in response to the trip/contact is immediate and his actions obscure any clear evidence of knee-head contact
– McCaw grabs Higginbotham’s lower leg, pulling him toward and down – in video McCaw’s head now well clear of Higginbotham’s knee;
– Off balance and falling Higginbotham tries to free leg – Hooper pushes McCaw away from Higginbotham;
– McCaw pulls Higginbotham down on top of himself;
– Camera zooms;
– McCaw now on his knees still has arm around Higginbotham’s right leg;
– McCaw on all fours burrows under Higginbotham and over Hooper;
– McCaw tosses Higginbotham off of his right shoulder;
– Higginbotham in seated position facing McCaw as McCaw lunges forward arms outstretched;
– McCaw’s lunge puts Higginbotham on his back with hands grabbing McCaw’s jersey;
– Higginbotham pulls himself up and toward McCaw;
– McCaw sticks right elbow/forearm into Higginbotham’s chest to keep him away;
– McCaw now on top of Hooper drives Higginbotham back with elbow/forearm at collar level;
– McCaw’s head very close to Higginbotham’s head;
– Higginbotham attempts to pull McCaw toward him – McCaw’s arm slips a bit lower;
@25:24 (video angle changes)
– One second of struggling – Higginbotham to get closer, and now, McCaw to stay away;
– Higginbotham finally gets his left temple close enough to hit McCaw on the left temple.
– All over but the untangling.
The video is the best evidence available to determine what happened. Anyone who wants to believe that Higginbotham is a thug will have to ignore everything but the video still that appears to show a knee to the head, and the video still of Higginbotham’s left temple finally ‘butting’ McCaw’s left temple.
That means ignoring Higginbotham’s offer to help McCaw up; ignoring that the circumstances clearly appear to have caused Higginbotham to trip; ignoring that McCaw (having missed Higginbotham’s gesture) overreacted to the trip to which he contributed; ignoring the lack of clear evidence that there was a kneeing, let alone an intentional kneeing; and finally, ignoring that McCaw’s aggressive response to the initial contact contributed greatly to everything that happened after – including Higginbotham’s ‘clash of temples’.
Ignore all this and you will be in the good company of notables such as All Black coach Steve Hansen who is quoted as saying:
“I saw the head-butt – it’s another cheap shot,” Hansen says. “He seems to get them every week but everyone seems to miss them.”
Really, you saw it? It took me half an hour to isolate the single ‘clash of temples’ from all the inconsequential thrashing going on.
McCaw admitted he was annoyed at the time and expected the judicial process to take its course against Higginbotham.
“It’s on TV so it will get dealt with,” he said. “It does get frustrating at times and annoying but there’s not much I can do about it.”
‘It does get frustrating at times…’ What disingenuous rubbish! His fellow trooper, would-be mate goes to jail because Richie has become a very touchy victim.
Mistakes were made Ritchie. You were there. Take a video refresher and see if you just might have made at least one of them. Perhaps you could step up and get your mate out of jail?