Friday night’s Pro12 fixture between Leinster and Edinburgh was overshadowed by a bone shuddering tackle from Leinster’s Fergus McFadden on the Gunner’s Damien Hoyland.
It was the sort of tackle that had this been the year 2000 and you were a Samoan it may have been lauded as a “tough tackle”. Indeed Samoa’s Lima made a career out of similar late and dangerous hits. But player safety is thankfully higher up the agenda and this sort of tackle is now rightly punished harshly…..until now!
For those that haven’t seen the incident, here are the head on and side views:
The referee was the Italian referee Marius Mitrea and the Irish TMO Dermot Moloney.
This is a transcript of their conversation as the incident was reviewed. Some of the conversation was missed as BBC Alba’s over enthusiastic commentary team decided to talk over most of the conversation.
MM – “From what I am seeing [inaudible] …but because of the impact, didn’t make it ….to wrap his arm around. So for me it is not intentional, no arms tackle.
TMO Yes, it’s a no arms tackle
MM – OK.
TMO That’s correct
MM So i’m just going to give a penalty for no arms and nothing more
TMO Yes, that’s fine.
Mitrea then spoke to the two captains to explain his decision:
MM [inaudible] ……his arm is out. He’s trying to tackle him but because of the speed of the impact he didn’t make it so it’s just a penalty, OK .
Questioned by Edinburgh player – “It wasn’t high?”
MM “It wasn’t high, it was on the shoulder” It was…he just didn’t make it [makes arm wrapping gesture]
The conversation and outcome raises a number of issues.
We have always said that it should be the TMO – who has a TV screen just inches from their nose, who should explain what the pictures are showing and what the sanction should be. The referee, who is looking at a poor quality big screen from 20+ metres away obviously has the right to disagree and has the final say, but it should be the TMO that makes the call.
Secondly, the TMO and referee should have a “proper” conversation and not this strange cryptic discussion that seems to be the current modus operandi. We have seen lots of cases this year (in all forms of rugby) where the TMO obviously disagrees with the referee’s interpretation but instead of communicating this is black and white we get the cryptic “You might want to look at it again”. In Roy Walker’s words, “Say what you see”.
In this transcript what does Moloney mean when he says “Yes, it’s a no arms tackle”? Most people would interpret that as meaning it’s dangerous and at least a yellow card was going to be issued?
Neutrality of officials
In the amateur days it was acceptable for the officials to be from the same nation as one of the teams, but those days have gone. The officials need to be neutral but perhaps more pertinently they also need to be seen as independent; the perception is as important as the reality.
The issue is further complicated in rugby by the fact that unions often have stakes in their regions or provinces, and then also employ the officials.
Consistency of decision
Even those who watch a lot of rugby will struggle at the moment to explain the current approach to no arms and high tackles. This season has seen a focus on ensuring tackles are kept low – indeed the “high tackle” line seems to now be somewhere around the chest area, and a focus on no arms in the tackle.
Back in February McFadden was involved in another no arms tackle against Cardiff Blues:
In this incident he does make a reasonable effort to wrap his arms and the impact is about half way up the torso. The outcome? A yellow card.
The Osprey’s Dan Lydiate has also fallen foul of the no arms focus this season and received a yellow card for this tackle:
Both these examples were penalised with yellow cards and yet McFadden’s was adjudged to be a penalty only.
The mistake Mitrea makes is that he is judging the offence as a tackle, but it should be looked at as a strike to the head. It is covered in section 10.4 of the rugby laws which clearly outlaws any contact or strike with the shoulder and goes on to cover dangerous tackling. If this isn’t an example of a dangerous tackle we are not sure what is.
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