The one element that appears strictly off the table after the first weekend of June tests is common sense and unless rugby authorities are willing to apply it, they will fail in their mission to support the welfare of players while allowing the essence of the game to thrive.

Controversy will continue to dog test football unless or until there is acceptance that head collisions can't be eradicated.

That's the impossible dream - a Utopian vision that might sound achievable when written down but has not a chance of ever being the case when the laws of physics are applied.

After seeing tackle heights rise and rise over the last decade, World Rugby took a welcome stand two years ago to enforce a major correction of technique.

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Referees were empowered to penalise any contact that involved the head. The plan was to be inflexible and punitive to make a statement about the seriousness of high tackles and to put the onus on coaches and players to amend their technique to consistently hit the ball carrier lower.

No one in the game has any issue with the intent of World Rugby's plan. No one disputes that the players have a right to hold firm expectations that their welfare is considered paramount and that coaches, administrators, officials, executives and medics all have a duty of care to the athletes.

To that end, players and coaches expect referees to punish reckless and needless high tackles.

It is obvious when a tackle is high due to bad technique or poor timing and, probably, with the benefit of various camera angles, Sam Cane's tackle on French wing Remy Grosso at Eden Park was worthy of a yellow card.

An inexperienced referee should have sought advice from the TMO before determining Cane's fate, just as he should have checked before showing French lock Paul Gabrillagues a yellow card 10 minutes earlier.

Match referee hands Paul Gabrillagues of France a yellow card during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Match referee hands Paul Gabrillagues of France a yellow card during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

If Gabrillagues had stayed on and Cane had been carded, the whole double standards accusation would never have arisen and the notion that the All Blacks hold some kind of mystical power over officials wouldn't have been floated.

ROTORUA DAILY POST
13 Jun, 2018 7:53am
3 minutes to read

The latter is hardly worthy of being refuted given the All Blacks were, alongside Argentina last year, the most carded Tier One nation.

They were hammered by officials last year- red carded once and in two different tests they were shown two yellow cards - and there wasn't a peep from anyone.

Now a young referee has made one mistake and the conspiracy theories are flying about and history is being re-written.

The All Blacks as a protected species is a story that will never die while they continue to hold the number one ranking and while it is easy to brush it off as ridiculous, it has had the effect of preventing reasoned and empathetic debate about the role of Ofa Tu'ungafasi in the Grosso tackle.

World Rugby wants for this to be a blanket issue and take a zero-tolerance stance that all contact with the head across the spectrum from wild and reckless to passive and accidental has to be punished.

But it is a collision sport, played by agile, explosive athletes whose body positions change in an instant which means there are grey areas - incidents beyond anyone's control. It is like human pinball at times.

The rash, stupid and technically negligent can be stamped out but what should Tuungafasi have done differently on Saturday night?

His body position pre-tackle was excellent - he was bent at the knees, on his toes and his torso was bent at the waist, low and angled forward.

Last year, from that same technically perfect position he hit Wallabies first-five Bernard Foley - in the mid-riff - with what was easily the most destructive and memorable tackle of 2017.

A similarly, legal, thunderous hit was probably Grosso's fate but between Tu'ungafasi committing to the hit and making it, the French wing's head dropped in height by a metre as Cane rode him down.

The outcome was horrible but how would it be fair or reasonable to punish Tu'ungafasi with a red card and suspension as many have suggested?

Here's where common sense has to kick in because the distinction has to be made between the avoidable and the unavoidable rather than saying there has been a head clash and someone has to be punished.

Just or unjust the ferryman has to be paid seems to be the rationale and going down that road will inevitably result in players re-assessing how they feel about playing a sport where the chances are high that they will be cast as a villain without justification.

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