Tuilagi and the leading knee in the tackle

Samoa’s Alesana Tuilagi’s appeal against his suspension for 5 weeks has been partially successful with the ban being reduced to 2 weeks.

The offence was for an act of foul play contrary to Law 10.4(a) of the Laws of the Game (striking with the knee). This is what the law says:

10.4 (a) Punching or striking. A player must not strike an opponent with the fist or arm, including the elbow, shoulder, head or knee(s).

Here is a video of the incident…..

….and a Vine courtesy of @patrickyuen.

Putting aside the interesting comment from the disciplinary committee that Tuilagi has showed “impeccable conduct during the hearing, good character and record over a long career” (people may remember incidents such as this against South Africa) we think a two match ban is appropriate.

Frame by frame view of the incident

There are a couple of reasons why we think that the ban is merited. Firstly Tuilagi alters his running angle to head towards the Japanese defender knowingly that he will make contact with him head on.

tuilagi 1

As he nears the defender he starts to raise his right knee in a fashion that we don’t do naturally when we are running. He is bracing himself for contact but importantly making sure it is on his terms by ensuring something hard on his body makes contact with the Japanese tackler first – his knee.

tuilagi 2

tuilagi 3

tuilagi 4

The knee continues to rise as we near the point of contact. At this stage his knee is some distance off the ground and conveniently at about the height of the tackler’s head. This is not to say that Tuilagi was deliberately trying to knee him in the head but he was aware that it was going to be his knee that first made contact with the defender.

Another thing to note is the length of time his leg is raised in the air as contact nears. This isn’t part of a natural stride pattern. Even at this stage Tuilagi can make the tackle safe by dipping his upper body so it makes contact with the defender first.

tuilagi 5

What about knees pumping in the tackle?

Of the those that have defended Tuilagi the response has been based on the argument that players pump their knees in tackles so this is the same thing. The main difference between the two scenarios is that knees pumping in the tackle means that the tackle has already been made, or at least the defender has a good grasp of the attacker.

The contact is therefore is a slower pace and the defender can choose which part of the defender to tackle ie they don’t have to make contact with the knee first.

In the Tuilagi incident a defender has no choice but to make contact with the knee if he wants to make the tackle at the angle the two players came together. Tuilagi uses his knee as a weapon as the first point of contact, this is not the case in the legs pumping scenario; legs pump for forward momentum, not to act as a point of contact for the opposition tackler.

Whether this sort of offence is consistently picked up is a different issue but we will have no complaints if this sort of thing is the subject of more scrutiny. In the age of rightful sensitivity around head injuries the knee leading in to the tackle needs to be stopped.

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