Not one, but two international series in June were marred by something as simple as trying to claim a high ball.
First, French winger Benjamin Fall received a red card after it was judged he had caused Beauden Barrett’s ugly fall 12 minutes into the All Blacks’ 26-13 win.
The contest was immediately killed.
The red card was later rescinded after it was deemed that Anton Lienert-Brown had run into Fall, aggravating Barrett’s fall.
One week later, in the deciding Test of a pulsating series between Australia and Ireland, Wallabies superstar, and high-ball specialist, Israel Folau was yellow-carded after he contested a ball from kick-off, which resulted in Irish flanker Peter O’Mahony crashing to earth.
Folau was handed a one-week suspension, but of more influence on the Test match, the Aussies played for ten minutes without their best back and lost the decider 20-16.
Two weeks in a row, an important result was determined by a player contesting a high-ball, without any intent whatsoever to cause any bodily harm to his opponent.
Something doesn’t read right here, does it? Player safety is paramount, but penalising players and teams so heavily for what is effectively an accident is just plain daft.
Livelihoods are affected, dreams smashed and the spectators pay the price all because players made an error in judging the timing of their jump. World Rugby is walking a dangerous tight-rope with these sanctions.
Next thing you know, players will begin simulating dangerous falls in the hopes of winning the immediate dismissal of an opponent of Folau’s calibre. And don’t tell me players won’t do that – Neymar has been rolling around Russia for weeks in the hopes of getting players sent off. It makes it easier to win.
An even bigger shame could be that players opt out of contesting kicks altogether, thus scrubbing another source of tries from kick-receipt or turnovers. Johan Roets and Chris Latham each made a living out of contesting high-balls. One has to wonder if they would still be as effective today.
An error in judgement should not result in the contest being ruined with players ejected from matches. Perhaps World Rugby will consider trying to ban jumping. Aerial contests will take place from the ‘safety’ of the ground where chasers will be coached to line up the receiver for a monster ball-and-all tackle.
Another option is to save the serious sanctions for after the match. If a player is impeded in the air, nothing more than award a penalty is awarded, with further sanctions left to the discretion of the citing commissioner.
Or, trust the officials to interpret the laws correctly. Laws, unlike rules, leave room for interpretation and I’m sure people like Jaco Peyper and Angus Gardner are capable of earning their pay. It’s not necessary to immediately say “you are responsible for the player’s safety” and dish out a card every single weekend. Let’s see some interpretation – it can’t be too hard to have a discussion with two assistant referees and the video ref, and together decide if the player was being reckless, or if he just made a silly mistake.
The bottom line is that something’s got to give. Rugby can’t afford to have blockbuster matches decided by unlucky jumping.
Follow Dawie on Twitter: @dawiboon
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