Has anyone else had enough of the constant bickering and blame game over head-high tackles and the fact the main problem – the law is an ass – is not being addressed?
Someone called Rob Debney, a former referee now writing a tsk, tsk column in The Times – running the rule over whether test referees had a good game or not – went a step further after the Sam Cane-Remy Grosso-Ofa Tuungafasi mass head clash in last weekend's test against France.
Somehow, Debney concluded from a collision clearly, obviously, indisputably accidental that the All Blacks are somehow refereed to a more lenient standard than anyone else.
"Once again the conversation is being dominated by claims that New Zealand always seem to get away with murder," wrote Debney. "If I had an answer as to why there appears to be a leniency towards them, I would be a professor in psychology, but it exists on a subconscious level. The accountability for taking a decision against them, the scrutiny it comes under compared with other teams, is incredible."
How did he arrive at that conclusion from that head clash? How about this, Rob: In 2017, the All Blacks were the most carded Tier 1 nation in test rugby – eight yellows and one red (how's it going, Sonny Bill?), equal with Argentina but more than any other and the worst in All Black history.
So the bias might exist on a subconscious level, Mr Debney, but on a conscious level, your contention is a bigger load of crap than that produced by a cavalcade of camels with chronic dysentery.
Debney believed All Blacks replacement prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi should have been sent off for using a shoulder in a double tackle on a crouching Grosso with Cane that broke two bones in the French wing's face: "Yes, Grosso was falling in the collision but the onus is on the referee to make his ruling based on the outcome of an incident. Intent is not material in the decision. Did Tuungafasi's shoulder connect with Grosso's head? Yes. Red card."
That's where the law is an ass. Debney is right: intent is not materially relevant as the law stands. But head clashes and concussion will not be solved by throwing red cards at accidents, no matter how much those who subconsciously desire the All Blacks' downfall might howl for blood.
Unfortunately that even extends to the person at the centre of the controversy – Grosso, who told France's Midi Olympique Tuungafasi had consciously made a dangerous tackle: "He sees me coming, he sees that I am down and he still makes the gesture to move his shoulder."
Twaddle. Sometimes those at the centre of the action do not have the best view; watch the replay in real time and it's obvious the sheer speed of the incident rules out any malice.
That's where the law must change. Clearly it should recognise intent – then of course a red card should come into play. But it is amazing a former first-class referee cannot seem to see that the pace and intensity of the modern game inevitably produces accidental collisions involving the head.
World Rugby and the judicial system understood that; it's why there was no punishment doled out to Tuungafasi (his "warning" was a piece of PR puff, a sop to satisfy the critics).
We all agree – French lock Paul Gabrillagues should not have been yellow-carded for his tackle but, seeing he was, consistency demanded both Cane and Tu'ungafasi be yellowed as well.
But a red card? Come on. All that does is showcase the "subconscious level", to use Debney's words, of those who would do the All Blacks down. Proof? Where was Debney and others when Irish flanker Sean O'Brien concussed Waisake Naholo with a swinging arm last year? In the Land Of Mute, that's where.
Even if the rules World Rugby are trialling were in force – no tackles above nipple height - they would not have covered the Cane-Grosso-Tuungafasi situation.
Which nipple height would be applied? Grosso's nipple at the height he lowered himself to when approaching contact? Or the height his nipple would have been if he was standing up. You see? Crazy.
The only way we will ever beat the inevitability of head clashes is by adopting Rippa Rugby at international level. Even then I wouldn't bet the mortgage on 100 per cent eradication.
As this column has pointed out previously, head high tackles are only a minor part of the anti-concussion drive. The 1500-game study by World Rugby from 2013-2015 concluded 76 per cent of head injuries occur in the tackle – with 73 per cent suffered by the tackler. A more recent survey from England's RFU revealed only 20 per cent of concussions were suffered by the ball carrier, 47 per cent by the tackler and the rest through accidental collisions, like at the breakdown.
Yes, yellow-card a player who carelessly high-tackles an opponent. There may be no intent – but rugby has to be seen to be doing something about concussion (even if the ball carrier is, literally, the less injured party).
But surely we must give referees the ability to interpret the rules, not just blindly follow them. You wonder why Debney, from his lofty perch on the Times' high horse, can't see that – and why he doesn't challenge the status quo.
Rugby hasn't found the right answer yet but, whatever it is, it isn't fallacious subconscious musings about the All Blacks by a referee who should know better and whose only answer is more red cards.
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