Sport Champions Cup

Sunday 18 November 2018

Game needs more consistency in the war on head shots

Munster 36 Gloucester 22

Rory Scannell being tackled in the incident that resulted in Danny Cipriani (left) being shown the red card at Thomond Park. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Rory Scannell being tackled in the incident that resulted in Danny Cipriani (left) being shown the red card at Thomond Park. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Many roads are paved with good intentions; not all of them lead to hell.

Rugby Union's best brains and blazers know this much for it wasn't so long ago that their sport was careering towards the hot-house; it's amazing how the merest tip of the devil's fork on your a**e can prompt a Pauline conversion.

And so after years of ignoring the corrosive effects of concussion, in some cases leading to death, as we tragically know in this country, rugby has belatedly confronted its responsibilities.

Prudence

Not all of them were moral; financial prudence dictated the mood too but the point of it all is that the 23-year-old professional game has been forced into radical reshaping.

If purportedly "ruining" a game of rugby like this one - in any event, both sides had been doing their darnedest to ruin it in what had been a stunningly incompetent opening quarter - is the price worth paying, then nobody should refuse to stump up.

Peter O'Mahony wins possession in a lineout. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Peter O'Mahony wins possession in a lineout. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

The only point Gloucester coach Johan Ackermann reasonably debated following Danny Cipriani's correct dismissal under revised World Rugby regulations was not the red card but the effect it may have had on the game.

Sadly, Ackermann's ambiguity remains widespread in the game and when players-turned-pundits are clamouring for "common sense", while other ex-pros and large swathes of supporters virulently disagree not only with Cipriani's transgression but its new sanction, it is clear that the sport is in the midst of an identity crisis.

This always happens when there is culture change. Rugby's greatest challenge now is, having chosen a road to redemption, to keep the car pointing in the right direction.

Culture changes always prompt a crisis in identity. Any fool can believe; doing something about it requires an overhaul in attitude and behaviour.

Joey Carbery at full stretch to tackle Jason Woodward. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Joey Carbery at full stretch to tackle Jason Woodward. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Preventing people's heads getting smashed by opponents hardly seems unreasonable - far better to ruin the odd game than potentially destroy a sport forever.

It is the intent of the sport to protect the players by protecting the game. And everyone needs to remember the reason why we are here in the first place is because of rugby's failure to protect its players in the recent past.

Critics may carp that the nature of the sport will change irrevocably but the nature of the sport had already changed. Rugby needs to save itself.

Which is why the sport's commitment to zero tolerance must be maintained. Inaction would not merely betray ignorance but continue to imperil the health of its players as well as being a lawyer's dream.

Tadhg Beirne makes a break. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Tadhg Beirne makes a break. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Cipriani may be a victim in some people's eyes but rather him than a paraplegic or a collection of weeping graveside mourners.

With culture change comes confusion, too, and here there is some empathy for coaches and players who, despite re-learning new tackling techniques, are seeing some tackles being punished while others are not.

Consistent application of the law should have resulted in more red cards on Saturday and not all of them on one side either, Stephen Archer's reckless late swinging arm for one.

But coaches and players have a responsibility too; for all his faults and supposed stupidity, Cipriani admirably acknowledged that the ultimate sanction was coming his way.

Habit

Spectators look on as Joey Carbery kicks a conversion. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Spectators look on as Joey Carbery kicks a conversion. Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Even if he was trying to get as far away from a tackle situation as conveniently possible - habit of a lifetime, perhaps - he knew he hadn't done so quickly enough and straightening his right arm was not a good look.

Ackermann insisted that this is the way Cipriani always trains. It doesn't take a genius to surmise that now is the time for the coach to train the player in a different manner.

Regardless of what the ball-carrier is doing, the message should be to hunker down, drop the chin and prepare to hit low.

Ackermann's rambling talk about planes falling from the sky and car accidents reflect All Blacks' coach Steve Hansen's "fluid game" defence in relation to high tackles.

Munster captain Peter O'Mahony seemed much more reflective of the voice of reason that is needed at this delicate stage.

"We have to trust the officials on their adjudication and trust them 100pc. The high tackle has been penalised forever in the game, do you know what I mean? It's never been allowed.

"It's not like guys are starting to do it now. No-one wants to give away penalties any more because of the pressure you put on yourself. So there's no guys doing it with intent. There are guys with good footwork out there who will put you off balance. And nine times out of ten, it is a genuine accident.

"No-one has ever practised high tackles, do you know what I mean? Apart from if you're practising choke tackles, you are a bit more upright but nine times out of 10 your goal is a low tackle.

"If you are upright and you're awkward, then you are in trouble. A lot of the time there is no intent but that is just the law."

Then again, when his counterpart Ed Slater is still mulling over "which of the high shots was more serious than the other", his is a view which also needs to be absorbed by those in charge of the sport.

Because this otherwise forgettable contest will only be recalled if it served as another step towards the game cleaning up its act.

Munster - M Haley (JJ Hanrahan 68); A Conway, D Goggin, R Scannell (S Arnold 48; yc 77-80), D Sweetnam; J Carbery, D Williams (A Mathewson 48); J Cronin (D Kilcoyne 48), R Marshall (K O'Byrne HT), J Ryan (S Archer 59; yc 79-80); J Kleyn (B Holland 61), T Beirne; P O'Mahony (capt), T O'Donnell (A Botha 38), CJ Stander.

Gloucester - J Woodward; M Banahan, B Twelvetrees, M Atkinson (O Williams 63), T Marshall (T Hudson 45); D Cipriani (rc 30), C Braley (B Vellacott 53); V Rapava Ruskin (C Knight 65), F Marais (C Knight 20), J Hohneck; T Savage (yc 22-32), E Slater, capt (G Grobler 54); F Clarke (G Evans 61), J Polledri, B Morgan.

Ref - A Ruiz (FFR)

Irish Independent

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