Wednesday 18 October 2017

Real issue to tackle

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

If anyone doubts the problems bedevilling the modern game, then last weekend's final quarter 'tacklemania' at Lansdowne made for a chilling reminder.

Since the Bradley Davies/ Stephen Ferris were-they-weren't they spear-tackles, I have had a number of conversations with playing contemporaries who, like me, can scarcely recall a spear-tackle or anything remotely comparable in days gone by.

Some might argue that it's a case of the mind growing dim but, hand on heart, such career-threatening tackles were unheard of in my time.

Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. While like most people I felt that the penalty and yellow card, for Ferris were over the top, it is difficult not to support the IRB in the zero-tolerance approach to any player being lifted in the tackle.

That said, tackles do differ and dramatically so. Throw in the most infamous alleged spear-tackle of the lot -- Sam Warburton on Vincent Clerc -- and you would say Davies is a long way ahead of both his captain and Ferris in terms of danger and intent.

Therein lies the core of the problem -- how to identify malice/intent.

As of now rugby league has the more prudent disciplinary system, whereby any incident unclear to match officials in the heat of the moment is put 'on report' for post- match assessment.

In advancing zero tolerance, we leave ourselves open to the harshest penalty (red card) ahead of a player subsequently being proved innocent.

The Ferris incident did not warrant yellow, never mind red. What he was doing in London before a disciplinary committee on Wednesday simply beggars belief.

One thing's for sure, rugby union has got a problem that, short of banning the lifting of any player in the tackle, is not going to go away anytime soon.

And one final point relating to the manner in which Ferris departed the field on Sunday, knowing he had cost his side the match on the basis of a refereeing interpretation he knew to be wrong.

The Ulsterman's dignified exit and its context showed a code of discipline and respectful behaviour that must be protected at all costs. May the same man have a blinder in Paris this evening.

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