Rugby’s Officiating Mess – Does Anyone Understand What’s Going on? A look at Tackles in the Air and Accidental Offences

Does anyone understand rugby’s officiating and sanctions any more, because we don’t.

A week after the farcical events of the first New Zealand v France test, where a horrible shoulder hit to a face wasn’t even considered to be a penalty by the officiating team, we have yet more controversy.

In the 2nd test between the same two nations we saw the French full back sent off for a challenge in the air. The card was early in the game and meant any meaningful contest was over.

We will look at that incident in a bit more detail, because it also throws up some interesting comparisons with the shoulder offence from the 1st test and also another tackle in the u20 World Championship final.

(1) Benjamin Fall red card

Here is the footage.

A few observations about the incident:

  • Fall gets a bump from a NZ player running a blocking line that disrupts his run
  • Both players have their eyes firmly on the ball and not on the other catcher
  • Beauden Barrett jumps early and high, Fall make a small jump much later
  • Barrett lands on his upper shoulders/neck

The referee, Angus Gardener, follows the guidelines set out by World Rugby for challenges in the air – indeed you can hear him talk about Fall not being in a position to catch the ball and then looking at where Barrett landed. Here are those guidelines:


Once Gardener has deemed the challenge “not fair”, then because the player lands on his shoulder/neck, the correct decision is a red card.  This is good refereeing that follows both World Rugby’s guidelines and previous similar incidents.

Here is an example of very similar incident that was also deemed to be a red card offence.

Jared Payne for Ulster against Saracens.

LSxtaAW - Imgur.gif

Similar to the Fall incident, both players are watching the ball, the catcher gets off the ground early and high and Goode lands badly.

Payne was given a red card and a 3 week ban for this (before deductions) as it was considered to be a reckless act.

Although Gardener has followed World Rugby’s guidelines, we have always argued that the guidelines are wrong because they focus primarily on the outcome of the clash and not the action.

Before we discuss that, we need to revisit the Fall incident again because over the weekend the Judicial Committee (JC) looking at the Fall red card has decided to over turn the sending off!

This is an incredible decision because it ignores about 3 or 4 years of referees (and disciplinary panels) judging that players like Fall and Payne who are making a genuine attempt to catch the ball but accidentally collide with a catcher in the air, are being reckless and should be punished with a red card and a ban.

The judgement talks about the fact “the Player, at all times, had his eyes on the ball whilst it was in the air, which showed, in our opinion, a clear intention, on the part of the Player, that he intended to contest it.”

This seemingly contradicts previous judgements where officials have been told that even though a player may be focused on the ball, if that player then makes dangerous contact with a catcher he’s still considered to not be in a position to make a fair challenge.

To add even more confusion the finding goes on to say, “direct and proximate cause for that outcome [the clash] was the result of the Player’s collision with NZ #13”.

This suggests that the check on Fall’s run, and the subsequent slight stumble, was the reason for the dangerous challenge.

This judgement causes even more confusion to an already complex area.


World Rugby Clarification

To try and help our understanding of the law around aerial challenges, World Rugby then issued a clarification statement :

wr statement tackle in air

The first line of the statement is very interesting because it says that a player having eyes on the ball is “not by itself a mitigating factor”. The use of the word “itself” gives WR some wriggle room but this line seems to be a clear rebuttal of the Judicial Committee’s finding, where they stated:

“the Player, at all times, had his eyes on the ball whilst it was in the air, which showed, in our opinion, a clear intention, on the part of the Player, that he intended to contest it.”

So we have the JC’s view, that a player can focus solely on the ball and intend to contest it, and WR’s statement that having eyes on the ball isn’t a mitigating factor.

The conclusion therefore, is that Fall was let off due to the bump from New Zealand #13 and that normal rules continue to apply, whereby focusing on the ball and following its trajectory isn’t a mitigation.  In short, who jumps first has the rights is still in force.


The guidelines are wrong

To come back to why we think the guidelines are wrong, there are a few areas to consider:

  • If both players are focused on the ball why should the player who jumps be absolved of a duty of care, and the “non-jumper” be considered reckless, when both players have shown an equal duty of care to each other?
  • Just because a player doesn’t jump, it doesn’t follow that he isn’t in a position to make the catch
  • How can we give the rights to the player who is first in the air, when the competing player won’t necessarily be aware of this (because they are focusing on the ball)

The other problem with the guidelines is that the sanction is based on the outcome and not the action of the offending player.

When a player makes a dangerous tackle on a catcher he doesn’t know the outcome, in terms of damage to the catcher, when the tackle is made.  In the Fall incident we saw an accidental/reckless clash resulting in a nasty fall from height by Barrett and a red card.

By contrast let’s look at another tackle from the weekend in the u20 World Championship final.


(2) Lucas Tauzin tackle in u20 final

Thanks to @smallclone for the gif


A French kick hits the ground and bounces in the air, and as the English player jumps to catch it the French winger (Tauzin) makes a full tackle while the England player is in the air.

Luckily for Tauzin the England player lands on his side and bizarrely the referee and TMO deem it only worthy of a penalty (it’s a yellow card as per the guidance).

So how have we ended up in a position where a player (Fall) can accidentally make contact with the opposition and get a red card, but a deliberate tackle on a player in the air is a penalty (or at worst a yellow card).

Neither Fall nor Tauzin knew the outcome of their challenges when they made them; that’s why it has to be the action that is penalised and not the outcome.


(3) Ofa Tu’ungafasi hit on Remy Grosso

I’m sure we all know this incident by now, but if not have a look at this article.

The referee didn’t think it warranted a penalty, let alone a yellow card and the citing commissioner said it also didn’t warrant a red card because:

“In considering the mechanics of the incident, the citing commissioner determined that there were mitigating factors which prevented the conduct from reaching the red card level in his opinion,” 

“These included Remy Grosso’s body position lowering as he went into contact with Sam Cane, who effected the tackle initially, immediately before Ofa Tu’ungafasi joined a dynamic tackle situation.”

The decision is nonsense, as Grosso’s body position hardly changed going in to contact and player’s should be making an effort to wrap with their arms and not just driving the shoulder in to the face.

Regardless of that, what this statement is focusing on is the actions of the tackler and tackled player; the judgement is based solely on the body positions of both players in the clash. It ignores the outcome of the actions, namely Tu’ungafasi making direct contact with force with Grosso’s face.

On one hand we have Fall’s challenge in the air being judged primarily on the outcome of the coming together (where Barrett lands), while the Grosso incident is judged solely on the leading actions and ignores the outcome (a shoulder to the face and a double fracture).

Why do we have this dichotomy of approach where some incidents are judged on outcome and others on actions? If Tu’ungafasi was judged on outcome, he would have received a red card and a long ban.


How do we get out of this mess?

Here are some practical steps:

(1) World Rugby needs to clarify the tackle in the air guidelines in light of Fall’s red card being rescinded. Was the judgement based on the fact that Fall was nudged in the lead up, or can a chaser make a “fair challenge” without having to jump for the ball, as long as they have focused on the ball and are following it’s trajectory?

(2) The rights to the ball in the air shouldn’t just be based on who jumps first and highest. This is usually the catcher and they need to take some responsibility if this is the option they choose.  It’s often the catcher in the air who instigates the contact with the defender on the floor.

(3) The tackle in the air guidelines should be amended so they are based on the player’s action and not the outcome

(4) If we think the tackle in the air is a high risk area more drastic steps may be needed, such as only the defending side may catch the ball if it is kicked over head height and there is a competition for the ball as it drops.

World Rugby needs to urgently address these issues as games are being decided by the decisions made and players, referees and supporters seem confused as to what’s going on.

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All Blacks Rugby – A Week of High Hits and Referee Leniency?

Last year’s British and Irish Lions tour contained a real collector’s item.

No, not a Lions team that was finally competitive in the Land of the Long White Cloud, but that the All Blacks were shown a red card in a test match, when Sonny Bill Williams planted his shoulder in to the prone head of Anthony Watson.

This was the All Blacks’ third red card in their history and the first for 50 years! It was also their first ever red card on home soil.

There are plenty of scientific studies that show referees in a number of sports tend to subconsciously favour the favourite team and with rugby’s laws being so open to subjectivity and personal “interpretation”, it wouldn’t be a surprise if some of these officials’ decisions have a material impact on the game.

The All Blacks have set the benchmark on the rugby pitch for decades but there has been a sense that their sporting dominance has been aided by a reticence from officials to properly punish them, whether these were the sort of technical offences that  Richie McCaw was so adept at avoiding or incidents of serious foul play.

For those that believe referees show a leniency towards the men in black, this week brought up a number of controversial incidents to add to the charge list.

Sunday 3rd June: Baby All Blacks (u20) v Wales u20

There were 4 controversial moments in this game, 3 acts of foul play and one disallowed penalty try. Let’s look at each incident.

(1) Tackle in the air on Cai Evans (Wales full back)

New Zealand kick the ball and it bounces in the air for the Welsh full back to take. Evans gets up in the air first but the chasing All Black doesn’t look at the ball but instead just clatters in to Evans in the air.

Neither the referee nor the TMO deemed this worthy of looking at again and it wasn’t penalised.

Our view: There was no competition for the ball and by the (badly drafted) World Rugby guidance it was at least a yellow card. If Evans lands initially on his upper back/head it should be a red.

(2) Wales have a call for a penalty try disallowed due to a deliberate knock on by New Zealand

The referee does refer this one to the TMO but they decide that there was covering defence so no penalty try was awarded. The offending All Black was given a yellow card.

Our view: It was certainly a yellow card and there is a good case for a penalty try. The freeeze frame below shows the ball as it just strikes the New Zealand hand, with the Wales winger having a clear run. Would a try probably have been scored?

u20 pt

(3) No attempt to tackle with the arms in a hit on Cai Evans

Unfortunately for Cai Evans he’s again the subject of All Black foul play as their flanker (Tom Florence) makes no effort to wrap the arms in the tackle and puts a stiff arm directly in to his face.

The referee did refer this to the TMO but judged it to be a yellow card offence only.

Our view: Since the new guidance came in around tackles/hits to the head and neck area we have tended to see wrap tackles that directly hit the head with some force being a yellow card offence.

In this tackle, there is no attempt to wrap the arms at all and the “stiff arm” that connects with the head indicates that this is an attempt to cause deliberate harm rather than make a tackle.

(4) Late hit to the head of Ioan Nicholas by Tanielu Tele’a

Image from @smallclone on Twitter

This one went to the TMO who deemed it a yellow card offence, even though Nicholas had blood clearly visible in his mouth from a strike to the head.

Tele’a was subsequently cited for the incident and given a 3 week ban. The disciplinary committee determined that Tele’a had led with his shoulder and recklessly struck Nicholas’ head.

Our view: This was an easy one to spot. How can the TMO/referee come to such a different conclusion than the disciplinary committee?

In our view the referee’s decisions on all 4 incidents favoured the Baby All Blacks. A clear red card was missed and the tackle in the air was also a minimum of a yellow card.

Even at u20 level do officials feel under pressure to not penalise the All Blacks as they would other teams? If Japan had commits these 4 offences would the referee have come to the same 4 outcomes?

Saturday 9th June: New Zealand v France 

This game contained 3 controversial moments.

(1) Yellow card for France’s Paul Gabrillagues for a “seat belt” tackle

The tackle from the side or behind, where the arm comes over the shoulder has been outlawed by World Rugby and popularly coined the “seat belt tackle”.  With the scores even referee Luke Pearce gave a yellow card to the French lock Gabrillagues for exactly this type of tackle.


Thanks to @smallclone on Twitter for this gif.


Pearce didn’t refer the incident to the TMO and made a quick decision to give a yellow card. New Zealand then went on to score 2 tries while he was off the field and 1 more just after he returned to play.

Our view: The tackle was a classic seat belt incident with no contact made to the ball carrier’s head or neck. It’s a penalty only and has been all season.


(2) Double hit (Sam Cane and Ofa Tu’ungafasi) on winger Remy Grosso

Here are two different views of the hit on Grosso

The first attempt at a tackle is by Sam Cane who swings an arm directly in the face of Grosso.

Tu’ungafasi then comes in with a shoulder directly in to the face of the French winger, in a manner not dissimilar to Sonny Bill Williams hit on Watson in the Lions tour.

Pearce’s view was that it was “just a penalty mate”.

Our view: Cane’s tackle in isolation deserves a yellow card. Put it in the context of the earlier French yellow card for a seat belt tackle and the decision from Pearce is even more baffling.

The Tu’ungafasi hit was a cynical attempt to harm an opposition and in that respect he succeeded given the reports that Grosso has suffered a double fracture to the face. This was a stonewall red card.

A pattern of leniency?

The two games this week have added a large body of evidence to the theory that referees treat New Zealand differently from other nations.  In all these big calls the All Blacks have benefited from very generous decisions.

Was the All Blacks v France game too big a step for the young English referee who had yet to take charge of a tier 1 v tier 1 fixture? Are officials subconsciously influenced in their decision making processes by the colour of the shirt rather than the offence they witness?

Does the reverence and respect demanded by World Rugby for the haka have some effect in the way referees feel they can treat the All Blacks players?

There is no doubt that when it comes to playing the game New Zealand are a level above the rest, but it would be nice though if this gap was closed by officials who have the courage to apply the correct sanctions, regardless of the colour of the jersey.

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5 of the Best Pick Ups – Steyn, Larmour, Tomos Williams, BOD and Beauden Barratt

If you have ever tried to pick a rugby ball up on the run, you’ll appreciate how hard it is.  Add in some more complicating factors such as using one hand, having a defender in close proximity and it being a high profile final and you have one of the most difficult skills on the rugby pitch.

Leinster’s Jordan Larmour executed a stunning pick up in the Pro 14 final which got us thinking – what were the other great pick ups over the years.

Here’s our top 5, in no particular order:

Jordan Larmour (May 2018 – Leinster v Scarlets)


Tomos Williams (May 2018 – Cardiff Blues v Gloucester)


Beauden Barratt (2017 – New Zealand v Lions)


Brian O’Driscoll (2010 – Ireland v New Zealand)



Francois Steyn (2008 – Italy v South Africa)


Have we missed any other examples?


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3 Simple Steps to Help Your Next Child Get an International Test Cap

Step 1 – Find a suitable partner to mate with

Step 2 – Create a relaxing atmosphere; candles, alcohol, soft music or even 100 great rugby  tries on VHS can help create an intimate occasion

Step 3 – mate with partner; ideally around Christmas time or up to June. Avoid August to the end of November at all costs


Step 3 is crucial to the chances of your child making the grade as an international rugby player and in this article we will explain why, but firstly a bit of background to the concepts discussed here.

Way back when, your author was involved in a high level schools’ rugby game (under 16/17) where each squad member was asked to give their full name and date of birth. What struck the author was the large percentage of players in the room who were born in the first few months of the academic year (September to say January). Not only was your author a September birth but it also seemed that most of the squad were too.

This concept stuck in the author’s head until he read the book  Super Freakonomics about 15 years later and there was the same pattern explained in glorious serious sounding academic speak.

In Super Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner discusses how youth football leagues in Europe have a December 31 cutoff, and over time we see a higher percentage of players born in the months after the cutoff make the top youth teams.

The explanation is that this cutoff applies from a young age, so kids born in January have a natural advantage in terms of physical development than those born later in the calendar year. They are often faster, stronger and more mature than their younger peers.

A coach will therefore pick the kids who are faster and stronger, who will tend to be the older kids. This bias then remains through the years and in to youth sport.

At an U17 European Championship, 75% of the footballers were born in a four month window.

Would this same pattern be visible in international rugby? Would we see more players capped who were born in the months after the cut off (the start of the academic year) or would the bias even out in to adult test rugby?


Effect of Birth Month in Wales Test Rugby

To test the theory, we determined the birth month of every capped Welsh international from the most recent (Elliot Dee) back to cap number 398 (capped around the mid 1920s).  This is a total of 745 capped individuals.

This date was chosen as the cut-off because it was only a few years before this that education was made compulsory in the UK until the age of 14.

This is the split by birth month.

number caps by month

A glance at this data indicates lows in the months of May (54) and August (47), with a peak in November (72).

This doesn’t give a full picture though, because we know that births are not equally distributed across the year – some months have more births than others.

Using data from the Office of National Statistics across the UK (from 1995 to 2014), we can find out the actual spread of births for each month and therefore what the expected number of caps per month would be, assuming the cap distribution matches the distribution in the ONS data.

The difference between the actual number of caps per birth month and the expected number of caps (from the ONS data), then tells us if Welsh test rugby shows an age bulge. The data is shown below:

actual v expeced caps

The graphic below shows (in red) the months where the actual number of capped Wales internationals is lower than the number we would expect, given the nautural distribution of births throughout the year.  Similarly, those months in blue are where the number of capped players is higher than we would normally expect.

graphic expected caps v actual


August stands out. Just 47 capped players were born in this month – which happens to be the month with the 3rd highest number of births. We would expect 64 players to be born in this month, so why were so few capped (17 fewer than expected or 27%)

If we then group the data by quarter (where quarter 1 is September, October and November) we get a clear picture of the “age bulge”.


If you are born in the first half of the year your chances of playing test rugby are higher than if you were born in the second half.

The variances may not be as extreme as the example quoted above (75% of players in a youth European Championship football tournament were born in a 4 month window) but they do indicate an “age bulge” that seems to pivot around the start of the school year (the data for September doesn’t fit the trend though).


What does this mean for rugby?

It would be useful to extend this analysis to other test nations and professional leagues to see if the same pattern holds.

If the pattern is found across the professional game it could have implications for the way we approach rugby at school and youth level.

Should we look at the NZ model, where younger players are often streamed by weight rather than age? How do we encourage those players that are not so physically developed at a younger age, to remain in the sport until their physical disadvantages are no longer prevalent?

Should there be more of an emphasis on enjoyment of sport at a younger level, rather than a focus on winning?

Ultimately – if this pattern is true, we are missing out on huge amounts of talent that should be playing the game at the top level but are being lost along the way.


Please let us know your thoughts on this area.

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When Did Referees Become Coaches? Examples From Leinster v Racing 92

Depending on your view point, the 2017 6 Nations fixture between England and Italy will be remembered as a game with a masterstroke of tactical coaching or one which rendered the game of rugby a farce.

The Italian tactic of not competing at the tackle when defending – and therefore not forming an offside line, had England’s senior players flummoxed. Dylan Hartley and James Haskell were forced in to a long conversation with referee Romain Poite about the legality of the tactic and how they could force a ruck to be formed.

Towards the end of the conversation Poite said to the England players, “I’m the referee, not the coach”.

Of course he’s right, he isn’t the coach but for a number of years we have seen the creeping practise of officials proactively “coaching” teams by issuing instructions in an attempt to reduce the number of infringements and maintain the flow of the game.

What do we mean by referees coaching players?

Watch any game of top level rugby and you will commonly hear these phrases being used by the referee:

  • “Stop winger, don’t move forward” – an instruction to a winger (or any other player), who is in front of a kicker and starts to move forward in an offside position
  • “You’re outside the 22” – informing the scrum half that he will be passing the ball back in to the 22m and therefore the ball can’t be kicked out on the full
  • “Don’t go in there/hands off/you’re off your feet” – the myriad of directives used at the ruck
  • “The ball’s out” – informing teams that the ball has come out of the back of the scrum or ruck and in to ope play
  • “Release. The tackle’s complete” – telling players when the tackled player gets a knee to the ground and the tackle is officially completed

These are a few examples, but there are lots more. In these circumstances the intention of the referee is honourable; to reduce the number of offences by informing a team that they are about to offend.  A game with fewer penalties must be a good thing for rugby as a spectacle?

Is referee coaching a positive thing?

This proactive coaching raises a few questions. The most fundamental is should referees be proactively helping teams to reduce their penalty count? Surely one of the basic requirements of top level rugby is that teams should know the laws and it’s their responsibility to play within them?

Why should teams that play within the rules at all times not receive the credit for doing so? This advantage is negated to an extent when the referee points out potential offences to both teams.

On a more detailed level, why are some offences called out before they happen and others aren’t?

We also often see at the end of the game, when a team is pushing for those crucial last points that the referee will do even more coaching, in an effort to stop the game being decided on a technical penalty. Is this fair, given the same level of coaching hasn’t been applied throughout the game?

Another aspect to proactive referee coaching is that there is the suspicion that teams are now willing to offend, until the referee tells them not to. The onus has therefore shifted from the players not offending to the offence being permitted until the referee tells a player to stop doing it.

As an example, take the ruck situation where a jackal is off his feet but still playing the ball. Instead of the player instantly releasing the ball, it’s commonplace for him to hold on to it, knowing it only becomes an offence when the referee tells them “off your feet, leave it”.

Leinster v Racing – examples of coaching

The weekend’s big Champions Cup final was decided by just 3 points. No tries were scored and 9 penalties were slotted over.

Which penalties were given by referee Wayne Barnes were pretty much a lottery, as is often the case at this level.

He seemed to be focusing on high hits as the offence du jour but Devin Toner seemed to have one of the Racing players around the head in front of Barnes in those final moments. This was a penalty throughout the rest of the game but not then. It’s a lottery.

Those final phases of the game, where Racing were trying to get in to position for the drop goal, contain a number of great examples of referee coaching, which we will focus on in a bit more detail.

After Leinster’s final penalty to take a 15-12 lead, Racing 92 restarted with 78.41 on the clock and regathered the ball to launch their final attack. Let’s look at each phase and what (if any) instructions were issued by Barnes:

Ruck 1 – no instructions

Ruck 2 – Barnes asks the Leinster defence to step back in to an offside position

Ruck 3/4/5 – no instructions

Ruck 6 – Barnes indicates for Leinster’s defence to hold their defensive line

Ruck 7/8/9 – no instructions

Ruck 10 – “tackle, away you come” and then points at a Leinster player and says “don’t go in there”

Ruck 11 – points at the Leinster pillar defence and says “no”

Ruck 12 – no instructions

Ruck 13 – shouts “no Andrew, no” as Andrew looks like he might attempt a jackal

Ruck 14 – Barnes signals for the Leinster defence to keep back

After 2 minutes of play, and 14 phases Racing take a premature drop kick attempt and the game is lost.

If we look at a clip from ruck 13, we see a very good example of the referee influencing the game proactively.

If Barnes hadn’t have shouted at Porter would he have gone in and tried to win the ball, giving away a penalty in the process? We won’t know.


Do we want more of less referee coaching?

Let’s be clear, referee coaching effects games and therefore the outcome of games. If it didn’t have a material impact on a game World Rugby wouldn’t be pushing their officials to take this approach.

There are certainly areas where a proactive approach from referees benefits the game, in particular where there is ambiguity around a specific scenario. For example, telling both teams that a tackled player’s knee is on the ground and the tackle has been made, benefits everyone and clears up any ambiguity.

In other aspects of the game the referee’s intervention isn’t required – telling players not to advance in an offside position, asking the defensive team to take their hands off the ball at the breakdown when the ruck has obviously formed. These offences are obvious.

With a refinement of the use of proactive referee coaching, this should also lead to an overall reduction in offences, if players take responsibility for their own actions and not rely on the referee to inform them when they are offending.

Imagine a world where players did actually release the ball when they went off their feet and not just when told to by a referee.

There are benefits to the proactive approach but there’s an argument to say that its scope has become too wide and is actually leading to more offences on the pitch.


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The Game’s Gone Soft? A List of Rugby Players Forced to Retire Due to Brain Injuries

It’s a comment often heard on social media, by rugby commentators and even from players themselves – “the game’s gone soft”!

In fact, rugby at the top level has never been harder and by “harder” we mean more dangerous.

If you do hear the “game’s gone soft” comment again, please point the individual in the direction of this list, which is a compilation of players who have cited head traumas or brain injuries as the sole (or major contributing factor) to their retirement from rugby.

It doesn’t include those who are still playing rugby having suffered serious complications from head traumas (North, Sexton, Lambie, Brown etc), nor does it include those players that may not have been completely open about the reasons for their retirement.

If there are any players missing off this list please let us know and we will try and keep it up to date.

The threat of serious brain injuries from rugby incidents isn’t a hypothetical scenario; it’s real and the implications are visible now.

There are currently 43 players on this list.



Nic Berry (Wasps, Racing Metro, Queensland Reds) – a “concussive episode” during the season opener against Harlequins has forced him to quit the game


Finlay Barnham (Leicester Tigers Academy, Nottingham) – retired after taking medical advice following a six-month spell on the sidelines recovering from concussion


Mouritz Botha (Sharks, Saracens, Newcastle, England) – retired from professional rugby at the age of 35, on medical advice related to concussion


Shontayne Hape (Bath, London Irish, Montpellier, England) – retired after repeated concussion incidents

Andy Hazell (Gloucester, England) – forced to retire after failing to recover from a pre-season concussion injury


David Jackson (Nottingham) – retired on medical grounds after suffering a head injury in pre-season training


Michael Lipman (Melbourne Rebels, Bristol, Bath, England) – Lipman admitted he’d had “possibly 30” concussions in a 12-year career


Kat Merchant (England Women) – retired in 2014 on medical advice, after sustaining a number of concussions during her career


Jon Pendlebury (Gloucester, Leeds Carnegie) – commented that he had received a number of concussions during the season



Marie-Alice Yahe (France Women’s captain) – retired due to repeated concussion events




Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster, Ireland) – retires on medical advice after receiving a number of concussions


John Fogarty (Leinster, Ireland) – retired from rugby as a result of difficulties brought about by repeated concussions


Bernard Jackman (Connacht, Leinster, Sale, Ireland) – retired because of repeated concussion – Jackman had 20 over three seasons


Ben Marshall (Leinster, Connacht, Emerging Ireland) – forced to retire from professional rugby based on medical advice following a concussion injury


Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster, Ireland) – retired from rugby on medical grounds after a neurologist raised concerns over issues related to concussion


Dave McSharry (Connacht) – retired after suffering multiple concussions


Nathan White (Waikato, Connacht, Ireland) – retired from professional rugby on medical advice following a concussion he sustained in March 2016


Cillian Willis (Leinster, Connacht, Ulster, Sale) – forced to retire at 28 due to concussion


New Zealand

Ben Afeaki (Chiefs, New Zealand) – retired with ongoing concussion symptoms following a head clash with team mate Brodie Retallick


Kane Barrett (Taranaki, Blues)  – took an elbow to the jaw while training with the Auckland Blues in March 2014. He hasn’t played since.


David Briggs (Taranaki, Chiefs, Tonga) – “I had heaps of concussions. I suffered depression big-time from those head knocks. I don’t think I will ever be right. I accept I will have depression for the rest of my life and a lot of memory loss”


James Broadhurst (Taranaki, Canterbury, Hurricanes, New Zealand) – called it a day on rugby after being badly concussed in the Taranaki v Wellington provincial clash in August 2015


Dan Bowden (multiple clubs including Blues, Highlanders and Crusaders) – mentioned that he had “struggled with concussions” in his statement explaining his retirement


Shane Christie (Highlanders) – forced to retire in May 2018 due to ongoing symptoms from a concussion he suffered back in 2016


Craig Clarke (Chiefs, Connacht) – retired at 30 after suffering his 10th concussion in 22 months


Shane Cleaver (Taranaki, Chiefs) – retired due to concussion complications


Steve Devine (Auckland, Blues, New Zealand) – numerous concussions suffered during his decade long career resulted in specialists advising the 30-year-old that it was time to give up the game


Jason Eaton (Hurricanes, La Rochelle, New Zealand) – suffered a head knock playing against Clermont in 2018 and has decided to retire at the end of this season because his symptoms haven’t improved.


Reggie Goodes (Wellington, Hurricanes) – retired on medical advice after suffering multiple concussions


Leon MacDonald (Canterbury, Crusaders, New Zealand) –  prompted to retire due to a serious concussion, suffered playing for Kintetsu in a pre-season game in Japan


Sean Polwart (Auckland, Blues and Chiefs) –  announced his retirement from rugby because of a concussion received on the training field in February 2015


Mark Reddish (Harlequins, Wellington, Hurricanes, Highlanders) – retired from rugby for medical reasons after suffering a concussion


Jayden Spence (Otago, Union Bordeaux Begles) – retired in 2018 after suffering a number of concussion issues


Dan Waenga (Chiefs, Biarittz) – played his last game in 2015 and retired after medical advice following  12 concussion incidents

Dan describes some of his symptoms at the bottom of the article below, which included depression, anxiety and sleeping up to 18 hours a day.–biarritz-olympique-victime-commotion-cerebrale-dan-waenga-prendre-retraite-2108151033.php


South Africa

Alistair Hargreaves (Sharks, Saracens, South Africa) – retired after suffering “a number of concussions” in the last couple of seasons



Adam Hughes (Dragons, Bristol, Exeter) – “A neurologist said that playing rugby wasn’t an option due to two major trauma scars that I had sustained on my brain”


Matthew Pewtner (Dragons) – the player failed to recover from a head injury


Ashley Smith (Dragons) – retired after suffering a “series of concussive events”


Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys, Worcester, Wales) – retired at the age of 32 after being diagnosed with epilepsy that is thought to have been brought on from multiple head traumas


Rory Watts Jones (Cardiff Blues) – forced to retire through concussion aged 26


Other Nations

Ben Bolger (UAE) – retired after suffering 2 head injuries in 2 weeks


Aaron Carpenter (Coventry, Plymouth Albion, Cornish Pirates, London Welsh,  Doncaster, Canada) -retired after a number of head injuries


Cameron Pierce (Pau, Canada) – Twitter profile states “rugby player retired from concussions”



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Myth buster #1: Do Ireland’s Best Players Play Away in the Pro 14?

This is the first article looking at the legitimacy of some of the “facts” that you often read in rugby discussions – we will aim to find out if they are true or not.

First up, is the often quoted statement that Ireland’s best players don’t play away fixtures in the Pro14.

A few weeks ago we looked in detail at how Ireland’s Lions’ players had a longer recovery period before the start of the 2017/18 domestic season and how the Ireland match day squad that played against England in the final game of the 6 Nations had played 4.5 games fewer than their English counterparts.

When we looked at where these 4.5 games were “lost” we could see that they were primarily attributed to the Irish players player fewer games in the Pro14.

minutes played


If we think in terms of match preparation and player management we can go another level down from this headline data and look at where the games were played; is it true that Irish players don’t play away Pro14 fixtures, so helping with fatigue and match preparation?


Do Ireland’s Top Players Play Away in the Pro 14?

To answer this question we looked at the starting XV in the England 6 Nations game and identified the minutes played in the Pro14 in the 2017/18 season to date, and whether these were home or away.

ireland play away

The data shows us a few useful pieces of information:

  • Ireland’s top players don’t play many minutes or games in the Pro14
  • They have appeared in an average of 4.9 fixtures, but clocked up an average of 317 minutes per game (less than 4 full games)
  • There is a large variation between players when we look at the split of home minutes played against away minutes – Johnny Sexton hasn’t played a single away minute in the Pro 14 this season, why all of James Ryan’s appearances have been away

If we average out the minutes played home and away we get a 47/53 split. Based on this we can say that Ireland’s top players play as many minutes away as they do at home – in fact they play slightly more.


Where do they play?

We know there isn’t on average a big difference between the home and away appearances of Ireland’s top players but it is interesting to analyse where they play the away games.

The pie chart (remember these from school) gives a breakdown of where the away minutes are played (green = Ireland, red = Wales, dark blue = Italy, black = South Africa and light blue = Scotland).

ireland play away minutes


Nearly 70% of the minutes the Irish team members played in the Pro 14 this season has been at other Irish provinces. This is perhaps not surprising given the number of Irish teams and the emphasis on derby games in the fixture list, but it does show that when we say Irish players “play away”, we usually mean another fixture in Ireland.

If we break this down by player and show the away minutes played against other Irish teams and then “others” we get the following graphic.

by player outside ireland.jpg


This shows that the 4 Munster players haven’t played a single minute of Pro 14 rugby outside Ireland so far this season (the same is true of Tadhg Furlong). 3 of the players (Murray, O’Mahony and Stander) played in games against Leinster and Connacht while Earls played in those two fixtures plus a visit to Ulster.

Only 1 player (Dan Leavy) has played some game time in Scotland against Glasgow, with just 3 appearances in Italy and 2 in South Africa.


Myth busting?

Yes. Based on this data, it is not true that Ireland’s best players don’t play away in the Pro14.

What is true though is that they don’t travel very far when they do travel – a trip to another Irish province is the norm.

Is this another factor in Ireland’s excellent player management programme?


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