Friday 18 October 2019

Neil Francis: Tough on Danny Cipriani but head-high tackle policy has to be enforced

'Yesterday Danny Cipriani saw red for a shoulder-to-face tackle in the 28th minute.' Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
'Yesterday Danny Cipriani saw red for a shoulder-to-face tackle in the 28th minute.' Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

I have been all over the world and never once have I seen in the parks and main drags of the cities I've been to, a statue or a memorial to commemorate the acts or deeds of a committee. This may change as the people who normally dream up these memorials are themselves committees. World Rugby may be about to buck this trend. The committee who have taken positive action on the curse of concussion in our game may have had to wander out of the safety of the harbour to "put player welfare at the forefront . . ." for once.

Our game has been made many times more dangerous by the introduction of rugby league defence coaches or people who ape their style. The impurities of league are now about to be addressed.

It may be frustrating in the short-term but I think we will get there. Most concussions come in the tackle and the majority of those concussions come from head-high tackles or head-to-head contact. This comes from an emphasis on standing tall and wrapping in the tackle, something that was never done in the amateur game, or even five or six years after the game went professional.

It became policy when the league coaches came in. Don't let the ball-carrier get the ball away in contact. A double tackle, one high, one low. Wrap the ball-carrier whatever way you can. These impurities in the game of union are about to be expunged, driven mainly not by player welfare but by the three words which would be a cure for constipation for any committee member of World Rugby - CTE class action.

The days of the Sam Cane and Sonny Bill Williams specials, those brilliantly cynical shoulder-to-head and shoulder-to-face tackles should be a thing of the past. The old-fashioned tackle around the legs or the below-the-nipple emphasis will be en vogue again and players can think of the offload more freely. Win-win, I think.

Yesterday Danny Cipriani saw red for a shoulder-to-face tackle in the 28th minute. The game pretty much ended as a contest at that moment in time but five minutes later Billy Twelvetrees did exactly the same to Joey Carbery and our zero-tolerance policy wobbled. Twelvetrees should have walked but then the game would have descended into farce and the Gloucester centre only got a sanction of a penalty. Consistency is always the first casualty of this zero-tolerance policy.

It is a pity that Cipriani had to walk. He was shaping up to have a decent game but that has been his life since he started playing rugby at this level and once again his plight gives more oxygen for the media to expound their theories on why he should be selected for England.

Cipriani has had so many second chances as he tries to divest himself of all his bad habits. After getting in to the starting side in England's final Test match against South Africa during the summer, it looked like he was making progress but assaulting a female police officer in Jersey only confirmed the view that he is a recidivist troublemaker and, as the England coach rightly claimed, you have to be more than just a gifted player to get in to the English side.

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Cipriani's departure did nothing to alter the result of this game. Munster were always going to win it. Sometimes though the dismissal of one of the opposition can change the feng shui of a game or a game-plan. Munster were a long way from impressive and if anything we needed a definitive performance just to be sure that they are back but this never came. In fairness to Gloucester, they were less than compliant and kept going to the end even though their fate was inevitable.

In the modern game it is rare to see a scoreless first quarter but that is exactly what transpired as Munster gave an inaccurate and almost whimsical performance. This inaccuracy infected the crowd. It is difficult to boil up an atmosphere when you see such looseness.

Munster were pinged 16 times throughout the game and the indiscipline that has pockmarked their performances this season continue. Stephen Archer, like he did in the Leinster game by giving away a needless penalty, once again got binned with only a few minutes to go but did so as Gloucester were chasing an improbable bonus point. In a group as tight as this, one point here or there can be crucial. How many more times do you have to tell the player to stop conceding stupid penalties at crucial moments?

Munster's pack, with three South Africans, a Kiwi and a Leinster man in it, did just enough to subdue a gamey Gloucester eight who if they are still in the competition in January will be a difficult obstacle in Kingsholm.

Munster's best performers on the day both came from outside the province. Tadhg Beirne now is Joe Schmidt's third-choice lock; his industry and his competitive juices are a thing to behold - 13 tackles and five poaches. What are all the other Munster pack members doing when this guy is doing his stuff?

Joey Carbery demonstrated that his skill levels are a couple of notches above any other player in the Munster squad. His back-flip under pressure on the left-hand side in the second half drew gasps from the Munster crowd. His passing yesterday was crisp but nowhere near as decisive as it should be in a match of this magnitude but that was not what made him stand out.

His tackling (he had a higher tackle count than any other player outside of his back five in the pack) told you of his quality and his tackle on Woodward as the Gloucester fullback made his way down the right-hand side told you not about Carbery's electric speed to get back to him but his determination and resilience to bring him down and this told you that Carbery will be a star in red any time he takes the pitch.

Munster look like they will top this group and have significant room to improve which they will do. A five-pointer at home on December 9 will probably be enough to convince Castres to fold their tent for the corresponding match in France a week later. The key then is a home quarter-final. Nobody, including Leinster, will want them at any stage. We wait for them to catch fire!

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