Monday 14 October 2019

Disgraceful 'tackle' on Farrell sums up the need for action

England’s Owen Farrell receives attention from doctor. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
England’s Owen Farrell receives attention from doctor. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Paul Hayward

They called it a cheap shot. But it might have been highly expensive - for Owen Farrell, England and for a sport grappling with the curse of head-high challenges.

Note the word "challenges". By no stretch could John Quill's hit on Farrell yesterday be called a tackle because the first red card of this World Cup was meted out to a player who came in high, heedlessly and when play was dead.

Farrell had knocked on and was rising from a crouch to throw a pointless pass when Quill nailed him with his shoulder at jaw level. Farrell was pole-axed.

This tournament is unlikely to throw up a more graphic justification for rugby's policy shift against "tackles" above the shoulder, when contact with the head is made, and/or the arms are not used on the ball carrier. In one disgraceful blow, the defensiveness of diehards who think rugby is going soft was exposed as disregard for victims.

An example. Peceli Yato, Fiji's best player, who was banjoed by Reece Hodge of Australia, missed his country's next match - a defeat by Uruguay. Hodge was not punished at the time but was subsequently banned for three weeks for a shoulder-to-jaw hit. The price of that was paid by Yato but also the whole of Fijian rugby.

England, for whom Farrell has 'previous' for tackling without 'wrapping', were also in the dock yesterday when Piers Francis ran into Will Hooley chin-high.

Surely, rugby needs to see this not as a mud-throwing exercise but a process it has to go through in a time of recent fatalities in France and greater awareness of the terrible costs of concussion.

Players and coaches must embed a culture in which the head is seen as a no-go area and tackle heights are lowered. If one World Cup has to be peppered with sanctions and citings - so be it.

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Already in Japan, we have seen gradations of offence: grey areas and debatable incidents. But if Quill leaves any mark on this tournament it will be to prove that felling an opponent with shoulder on jaw has no place in a game where players are lining up to tell their concussion tales.

This month, Scotland's David Denton retired at 29, almost a year after sustaining a head injury from which the symptoms persist.

These are high-stakes incidents - for the victims. There is "mitigation" built into the system to stop all strikes above the head being deemed illegal.

So, players can't claim the guidelines have suddenly become draconian or unclear. It is up to them to change and for referees to apply punishments consistently. Only a dinosaur could want a sport of head-high tackles and low intent. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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