What is it going to take in the game of rugby before referees, officials, citing commissioners and judiciaries front to the responsibility to ensure rugby is a sport and not a life-threatening exercise.
I am stunned and appalled that a judiciary could find no sanction befitting the crassness, cowardice and illegality of Reds prop Taniela Tupou’s tackle on Stormers’s outside back Craig Barry.
To borrow from an industry colleague Tank Lanning, who tweeted:
Taniela Tupou issued a 6 week .... NOTHING! Just a little slap on the wrist and told not do anything that is reckless or dangerous to others! SANZAAR, your are embarrassing yourselves further— Front Row Grunt (@FrontRowGrunt) March 28, 2018
Tupou had a 30-plus kg advantage, which would make it a physical mismatch even if the tackle was legal. A player who makes contact legally can at least prepare for the impact. Barry, in this instance, had no defence. He had offloaded the ball, his body was relaxed and he was following the movement of the pass he had just made. The hit on him was late, high (to the neck and head area) and also without arms bound around the player.
Television replays showed the full force and also the consequence and snap effect on Barry’s neck/head area. It was charring on the eye, which is an understatement to what it was on Barry’s physical being.
And it’s now being excused?
The referee Marius van der Westhuizen saw it and then refused to revisit the incident. Van der Westhuizen should never be allowed to referee at this level. His incompetence only adds to the troubles of professional rugby when it comes to player safety.
The citing commission saw it and determined it a straight red card offence. The minimum sanction should have been three weeks. The bigger sanction should be therapy for a bully who acts with cowardice.
Barry survived the immediate incident and that makes it all okay? Again, the warning signs are there in every professional match that the frequency, with which illegal head high tackles are made don’t balance to the yellow and red card sanction, let alone the penalty sanction.
Concussion is a long-term killer for those players on the receiving end. All the studies into American Football are damning.
Rugby is as brutal in its collisions. It has another code to learn from, but those entrusted with ensuring the adjustments are made in tackle techniques, namely the referees, assistants, TMOs and citing commissioners and judicial commissioners are betraying the efforts of those who are fighting for player safety.
The integrity of match officials is absent in Super Rugby. There is so much incompetence and inconsistency. There is also a disregard to effectively police the law that states a player’s neck/head area is out of bounds.
Match officials have now become medical experts in determining force, effect of force and consequence. How the hell has this been allowed to happen and why the hell is no one within SANZAAR, as just one example, taking responsibility and enforcing accountability?
I consider Jonathan Kaplan the leading authority on officiating. He was the world’s best referee and he is actively involved in the game. He is my go to on social media whenever I want my own view challenged on referees and match officials.
Kaplan has been frank in his assessment of how the match officials are failing the game and especially how inconsistent the application of the high and late tackle is.
Player safety is at the essence of this and the players are being failed.
Follow influential and renowned Sports Scientist Ross Tucker on Twitter. He is at the heart of all the research, analysis and data being collected and interpreted from a sports science perspective to make the game safer for players.
His analysis is there for public consumption. He engages in discussion, debate and he provides information to support opinion.
Tucker is emphatic that the game needs vigilant enforcing of the illegalities when it comes to high tackles.
The research shows that in most cases the tackler is even at greater risk in an illegal collision, when it comes to the issue of safety.
He dismisses the notion that the game is being destroyed because of over-zealous officiating. To the contrary, it has the potential of being destroyed because of an absence in officiating where there should be an over zealousness.
I was fuming with the lack of consequence to the Barry incident when I saw it happen and there was no immediate sanction.
Now I am even more angry because unfortunately it is going to take a tragedy for there to be acknowledgement.
And why does it need someone to be paralysed or killed for the officials to enforce a law that was altered to make rugby safer and ensure a player was protected from cowardly and illegal late, high and no arms tackles.
Here’s a snapshot of Tucker’s data and view. It is damning.
This week he tweeted:
In #rugby, two categories of law cover head contact in tackles. There’s the high tackle, and dangerous charging (not using arms). Here are the combined stats from the last 3 seasons of global rugby for penalties & cards for these offenses. Note cards are shown in matches per card pic.twitter.com/ik8qJf0S7f— Ross Tucker (@Scienceofsport) March 28, 2018
You’ll have a hard time convincing me that penalties and cards are “ruining your fun” when a penalty happens about once a match, a yellow card once every 7 matches & a red card every 50. Yellow cards affect the game for 10 min every 7 games. That’s 1.8% of the time. Small price— Ross Tucker (@Scienceofsport) March 28, 2018
And that’s for the global game, combined. There are tournament by tournament differences within these numbers. Bottom line - sanctions went up (overall), but this reaction of “high tackle cards are killing rugby”? Not even close to happening.— Ross Tucker (@Scienceofsport) March 28, 2018
If you’re wondering what other offenses look like, here’s matches between cards for the 10 most frequently yellow carded offenses. High tackles are most frequently carded - once every 10.9 matches (global average). 8.9% of all yellow cards are for high tackles. pic.twitter.com/KSyWTGkpcx
— Ross Tucker (@Scienceofsport) March 28, 2018
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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