Match officials should be allowed to use some common sense when adjudicating on high tackles, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The past weekend of Super Rugby saw two cards issued for dangerous tackles, which played a huge part in determining the outcome of the games concerned.
In Melbourne on Friday, Reds No 8 Scott Higginbotham was red-carded in the 10th minute of the match for his tackle on Rebels lock Matt Philip. Higginbotham went high, his shoulder made contact with Philip’s head and he did not use his arms in the tackle.
It clearly warranted a card, the only question was which colour, with the minimum sanction for such an offence a yellow and the maximum a red. Referee Brendon Pickerill opted for the latter, which is fair enough, even though it ruined the contest. Down to 14 men for 70 minutes, the Reds went on to lose 45-19.
The next day, the match between the Crusaders and Chiefs in Christchurch was heading for a thrilling finish with nine minutes to go as the hosts lead 26-23.
Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty picked up the ball from the back of a ruck, darted around the blind side and dived for the left-hand corner. Chiefs replacement lock Lachlan Boshier went as low as he could to make the tackle, first making contact with Crotty’s shoulder before sliding up to his head.
After consulting with the TMO, referee Ben O’Keeffe awarded a penalty try and gave Boshier a yellow card.
‘What else could the defender do?’ asked commentator Grant Nisbett.
‘Absolutely nothing,’ replied former All Blacks scrumhalf Justin Marshall.
Marshall is correct. Boshier only had two options – to go as low as he could to prevent Crotty from scoring, or step back and just allow him to score.
Clearly, there were mitigating circumstances to the ‘high’ tackle and the match officials should have been allowed to take them into account when deciding whether or not to issue a yellow card.
O’Keeffe applied the letter of the law when sending Boshier to the sin bin, so he is not to blame. The lawmakers are, for not allowing match officials to use common sense in a situation like this.
Boshier did not deserve a yellow card, so why not award the penalty try (itself quite harsh) but allow him to stay on the field?
The Chiefs, forced to play catch-up, went on to concede two intercept tries while down to 14 men and ended up losing 45-23.
World Rugby should be commended for issuing a directive to match officials to crack down on dangerous play above the shoulder. But it needs to accept that there will be the odd case when a high tackle is unavoidable and the tackler deserves some leniency.
Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images