The following article is written by Robbie Orr, Digital Media and Marketing Manager for Global Rugby Network (GRN) as part of a collaboration with Rugby Nation USA.
Top picture Source: http://www.planetrugby.com/news/14-man-saracens-draw-with-exeter/
After the opening weekend of the Aviva Premiership under World Rugby’s new high tackle laws, the rugby community has plunged into intense and often contradicting discussion over the efficacy of the new legislation. Robbie Orr of the Global Rugby Network (@globalrugbynet) takes a closer look for Rugby Nation USA.
Rugby fans and pundits across the country held their breath as the weekend’s actions drew near in anticipation for World Rugby’s crackdown on the high tackle. Many pros and armchair pundits had expressed concern over what was to come. In my own article for Global Rugby Network I highlighted that we must be wary of the inconsistent refereeing decisions to come as officials settle in to the new rules. Now we must be patient.
Perhaps the most talked about decision of the weekend came in Saracens’ epic draw with Exeter in a repeat of last year’s Premiership final when a nasty double tackle left ex-England lock Geoff Parling with a bad concussion and tackler Richard Barrington with a red card. While it was Barrington that saw red, Daniel Schofield was one to ask whether fellow tackler Brad Barritt was the man responsible for the worst of the collision with a swinging arm gripping Parling’s neck dangerously before Barrington’s impact: “Barritt’s reprieve is unlikely to last past the citing commissioner’s report” he noted, and indeed it hasn’t. Another to question Barrington’s sending off was Tom May for ESPN who wondered why the referee’s decision didn’t change following the video replay: “My interpretation of the new laws would have seen Barritt sent off and Barrington with a talking to and some empathy from the referee for the situation.” There appears little doubt that a card was the correct choice, then, but the choice of Barrington has confused many. Here’s another look at the incident itself:
In contrast to Schofield and May, Sean McMahon wrote for joe.co.uk that it was Barrington’s responsibility to go lower and that he made no attempt to wrap his arms into the tackle. In addition, he notes that Barritt’s challenge was “definitely reckless” concluding that Saracens were perhaps lucky to avoid having both their players sent off. Alex Sanderson, Sarries assistant coach, is another to admit that Barritt was lucky to stay on the park, expressing that his side had ‘no complaints’ with Barrington’s sending off in an interview with BT Sport. Above all, we wish Geoff a swift return to full health.
The citing commission have since had their say with both Barritt and Barrington having cases to answer to. In an interesting reversal, the commission decided to dismiss Barrington’s offence of dangerous charging, thus leaving him free to play, while Barritt has been given a three-week suspension leaving him out of action until the beginning of February.
Barrington’s red card was not the only decision to attract debate with Sean Reidy (Ulster) and Jake Ball (Scarlets) both receiving cards while attempting to defend their line. While I am yet to see the Jake Ball incident, Reidy’s tackle is a tricky one to call. Driving low the attacker is certainly dipping, and the Ulster defender has little choice but go for the upper body to prevent a try/hold the ball up; he catches the Scarlet’s head and is sent to the bin.
There were also several high tackles that went unpunished including dubious challenges on Caolin Blade and Tommy O’Donnell in their games for Connacht and Munster respectively.
So, what can we conclude from the weekend’s action?
Firstly, that these new regulations will need time to settle. The largest concern among rugby fans was not based on individual refereeing decisions but on the collective inconsistencies across the board. With similar offences inciting different punishments many worry that the ambiguities of the new laws are doing little to solve the dangers of the tackle area. It is important that we do not get carried away, though. Yes, the refereeing decisions were inconsistent, but there were several matches wherein referees employed the new laws well and created exciting, free flowing contests, Wasps v Tigers and Glasgow v Cardiff to name a couple. If the long-term benefits are a reduction in serious injuries to the head and an increase in player welfare both during and following their careers, then these next few months of relative instability will be worthy charge.
Secondly, coaches and players need to concentrate on the tackle. Schofield was among many who noticed that the Saracens v Exeter match had more than a few concussions “caused not by high tackles but with tacklers going low and colliding with knees and hips.” Tom May commented that “tackling low is not a forgotten art but the game doesn’t present situations where the classic leg tackle can be used as much” collectively raising the concern of Shalk Brits that “it is maybe safer for the carrier [but] it is a little bit less safe for the tackler” under these new laws. This is a real worry and both players and coaches may need to adapt their technical approach to the tackle zone at all levels to compensate for these law changes.
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