Dan Lydiate’s career has been defined by his ability to stop attackers in their tracks with a low “chop tackle” aimed at the leg below the knee. Taking an attacker’s legs this low is a very effective way of preventing the ball carrier from moving but it has now caught the attention of the law makers and referees.
In the recent Pro12 game against Edinburgh, Lydiate was a shown a yellow card for this style of tackle. The front and side view are shown in the clips below.
The current blitzdefence twitter poll on this has drawn a wide range of views from “this is a text book tackle” to “It’s a canon ball which is a straight YC” (@thedeadballarea). As it currently stands 60% of viewers think the yellow card was the wrong call while 40% think it was correct.
Given the disparate range of views we thought we would look in to this type of tackle in a bit more detail.
Is this a new style of tackling?
No really. Rugby players have always been coached to tackle low but in recent years a higher tackle which wraps up or dislodges the ball has been more popular. It has though, been Lydiate’s trademark for a number of years.
The other point to make is that rugby players have traditionally been coached to make sure the first contact with the attacker is with the shoulder and then the arms wrap around.
Here is Wayne Smith teaching this basic tackling principle where he instructs to “punch with the shoulder”:
The recent confusion around this very low tackle has arisen because of World Rugby’s focus on law 10.4.a which says:
“Punching or striking. A player must not strike an opponent with the fist or arm, including the elbow, shoulder, head or knee(s).”
Law 10.4.g goes on to say:
“Dangerous charging. A player must not charge or knock down an opponent carrying the ball without trying to grasp that player.”
We will come back to how these laws are interpreted but first let’s look at Lydiate’s tackling technique
How does Lydiate tackle?
To keep things simple we will just look at a couple of examples where Lydiate’s technique isn’t incurring the ire of officials and focus on the specific type of tackle where his approach is under scrutiny.
Areas where Lydiate doesn’t have issues are the side-on tackle and the higher front-on tackle (between the knees and the waist).
As the following clips show, in the side-on example because the ball carrier is running perpendicular to Lydiate, his shoulder isn’t the first part of his body that make contact. Initial contact is made with the arms which then wrap and pull the legs towards his body to complete the tackle.
Lydiate’s head on tackle between the knees and waist is also a text book approach, as described by Wayne Smith in the earlier video. This clip below against Scotland shows him getting in to a low crouching position, moving his head to the side of the hips and then driving through his shoulder.
The only tackle where Lydiate’s technique is being scrutinised is the very low (from the knee down) head-on tackle. In the recent Rugby World Cup fixture between England and Wales referee Jerome Garces referred a low Lydiate tackle to the TMO for review. The image below shows the point of contact between Lydiate and England’s Tom Wood.
There are a number of similarities between this tackle and the Edinburgh offence:
The images show that both tackles are using the right shoulder and to set his position Lydiate drops down on to his right knee with the left leg extended. The right shoulder makes contact with the leg first with the right arm trying to wrap around the opposite leg. In both bases it is the shoulder that makes the primary contact and “makes” the tackle, with little or no help from the right arm even though it is attempting to wrap around.
Interestingly, in the Tom Wood tackle the referee decided that “…for me, he uses his arm, so the tackle is fine”, while the near identical tackle in the Edinburgh game resulted in a penalty and yellow card. It seems as if officials, as well as players and supporters aren’t clear if this type of tackle is illegal.
So is it illegal?
The blitzdefence view is that this is a very grey area. Laws 10.4.a and g in our view are intended to stop the deliberate shoulder charge where there is absolutely no intent to tackle the player legally, but the shoulder is used as a weapon. In our view this is not what Lydiate is trying to do; he doesn’t have any intent to harm the opposition player.
The problem with his technique is that by hitting the ball carrier so low in a head-on position it is very difficult to get the arm to wrap around at the same time as the impact.
We have seen from the Wayne Smith video that players are coached to lead with the shoulder, so in most leg tackles it will always be the shoulder that makes the first contact, with the arms following. A tackle lower down the body will mean it is harder to wrap the arms around the legs for a couple of reasons:
- the lower hit tends to cause the defender to quickly come off his feet so there is less time to get the arms around the leg
- the leg below the knee is not as wide as the hips so there is less to wrap around
The fact that it is harder to wrap the arms in a lower tackle means the tackle looks more dangerous that a higher tackle where the arms eventually wrap but the shoulder is again the first point of contact with the attacker.
The laws say that the defender must try and “grasp the player” and not “strike the opponent”. In our view Lydiate does attempt to grasp the player (but for the reasons stated above this is always going to be difficult to complete in a low tackle).
There is no intention to cause harm to the opponent. Is it likely to inadvertently cause an injury? This is difficult to answer but as long as the arm makes an effort to wrap we think the tackle should be deemed legal.
As we have seen on Twitter there are lots of different views on this type of tackle and ultimately whether it is legal or not as per the current rules is not that relevant. The important thing is for World Rugby to quickly clarify one way or another whether this type of tackle is allowed so everyone who plays, watches and officiates the game knows what the sanction is for such a tackle. This may mean that tackles below the knee are then not permitted.
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