26 Feb 2020
We have two incidents from Saturday in which players received yellow cards for clashes with opponents' heads.
By Paul Dobson, Moonsport
The Bulls win a lineout inside their own half and scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl kicks high. Blues' wing Emoni Narawa stands firm and catches the ball near his own 10-metre line. As he does so, Burger Odendaal, the Bulls' captain, charges into him and tackles him.
The referee consults his assistant and the TMO. They examine the incident and decide that Odendaal had made forceful contact with Narawa's head. That would made a red card possible. But they saw that Narawa had subsided and regarded that as a mitigating factor and sent Odendaal off with a yellow card.
At Newlands, the Jaguares win a lineout. After a phase, Tomas Cubelli passes to lock Lucas Paulos who charges ahead. Frans Malherbe of the Stormers brings Paulos down. Play goes on but at the next stoppage the referee reacts to a check-check. He, the assistant referee and the TMO examine the incident. because they found that Malherbe had not used arms in the tackle and had made contact with Paulos's head, they could card him. They thought that the contact with Paulos's head warranted a red card but found that Paulos's lowering of his body was a mitigating factor and issued Malherbe with a yellow card.
The two incident are similar in that there was head contact, the mitigation of lowering the body and a yellow card for the tackler.
But there were differences:
Narawa was standing still to catch the ball; Paulos had the ball and was moving ahead.
Odendaal was running towards Narawa; Malherbe was waiting for Paulos to come to him.
Narawa made no effort to contact Odendaal but was solely defensive; Paulos was more of an aggressor than Malherbe was.
Odendaal had a bigger target, as, at least initially, Narawa was standing upright; Malherbe faced a player bending low and charging at him.
Narawa was not attempting to make contact with Odendaal; Paulos made greater contact with Malherbe than Malherbe did with him.
There are the laws which are not nearly as explicit in dealing with this sort of action than the framework of guidelines issued by World Rugby in May 2019.
Law 9 DANGEROUS PLAY
11. Players must not do anything that is reckless or dangerous to others.
12. A player must not physically or verbally abuse anyone. Physical abuse includes, but is not limited to, biting, punching, contact with the eye or eye area, striking with any part of the arm (including stiff-arm tackles), shoulder, head or knee(s), stamping, trampling, tripping or kicking.
16. A player must not charge or knock down an opponent carrying the ball without attempting to grasp that player.
It would seem that the first two of those proscriptions could apply to Odendaal; article 16 could apply to Malherbe.
Referees are obliged to use the framework of guidelines promulgated by World Rugby in its attempt to establish a way of working that was/is "consistent, accurate and objective (can be explained even with allowable disagreements)".
We give the fuller text of the framework below but in discussing the incidents we shall take just a few provisions. We shall also consider Law 29 in our assessment of the two situations.
Law 29? Paul van Blommestein was a top referee in his day and he would preach the importance of Law 29, in days when the last ;law in the book was Law 28. His Law 29 was commonsense.
In these two cases, the first thing to determine is whether or not we are dealing with a shoulder charge or no.
Odendaal charges, Malherbe dos not. In fact Paulos does the charging.
Did Odendaal make contact with Narawa's neck/head? Yes. Narawa's head jerks back on impact.
Did Malherbe make contact with Paulos's neck/head? Yes but so did the charging Paulos make contact with Malherbe's neck/head.
Using the arms in a tackle is important. The act of raising an arm towards an opponent causes the hard knob of the shoulder to retract. (You can easily see this by - gently - attacking the doorframe shoulder first.)
Odendaal lifts his left arm but it is his right shoulder that makes contact and his right arm is not raised.
Malherbe does not lead with a shoulder.
Van Blommenstein's law tells us that the yellow card for Odendaal made sense but the yellow card for Malherbe made no sense.
A silly memory. In his heyday in the 1950s, the great Jan Bull Pickard would catch a kick and then charge forward. He would pick out an opponent and charge at him. On one occasion, playing for Hamiltons at Newlands, Pickard, carrying the ball, charged at Paul Barnard, the Stellenbosch lock, and the referee, CP Fourie, penalised Pickard for playing the man without the ball.
Just a bizarre thought, but could Paulos have been penalised for charging shoulder first into Malherbe's head/neck area?
Not a serious thought!
What could Malherbe have done to avoid contact with the charging Paulos who was above him? Commonsense says that mere contact is not enough; the method of the contact ,must also count. Commonsense says that.
It would seem that the yellow card for Odendaal was right but not the yellow card for Malherbe.
The framework proposes three steps in coming to a decision:
Is the tackle a shoulder charge or high tackle?
Arm of the shoulder making contact with the ball carrier is behind the tackler’s body or tucked in ‘sling’ position at contact
An illegal tackle causing head contact, where head contact is identified by clear contact to ball carrier’s head/neck OR the head visibly moves backwards from the contact point OR the ball carrier requires an HIA
Note: the head’s first movement is back in a head-contact tackle or head-contact shoulder charge, and forward in a ‘body-contact’ tackle or ‘body-contact’ shoulder charge
IF SHOULDER CHARGE or HIGH TACKLE:
Was there ball-carrier head/neck contact?
What is the degree of danger – high or low?
Are there clear and obvious mitigating factors?*
* For mitigation, only one reduction in sanction can apply, irrespective of the number of mitigating factors present
VIDEO SIGNS INDICATING HIGHER DEGREE OF DANGER
Tackler draws the arm back prior to contact
Tackler may leave the ground
Arm swings forward prior to contact
Tackler is attempting an active/dominant tackle, as opposed to passive/soak, or “pulling out” of contact
Tackler speed and/or acceleration into tackle is high
Rigid arm or elbow makes contact with ball-carrier head as part of a swinging motion
Tackler completes the tackle (as opposed to immediate release/withdrawal)
Factors to consider against mitigation
If the tackler and ball-carrier are in open space and/or the tackler has clear line of sight and time before contact
(must be clear and obvious and can only be applied to reduce a sanction by 1 level)
Tackler makes a definite attempt to change height in an eeffort to avoid ball-carrier’s head
ball-carrier suddenly drops in height (e.g. From earlier tackle, trips/falls, dives to score)
Tackler is unsighted prior to contact
“Reactionary” tackle, immediate release
Head contact is indirect (starts elsewhere on the body and then slips or moves up resulting in minor contact to the ball-carrier’s head or neck)
Summary of tackle circumstances warranting range of sanctions
Shoulder charge (no arms tackle) to the head or neck of the ball carrier, and mitigation is not applied
High tackle with any contact between the tackler’s shoulder or head and the ball-carrier’s head or neck, with high degree of danger, and mitigation is not applied
High tackle with first contact from the tackler’s arm to the ball-carrier’s head or neck, with high degree of danger, and mitigation is not applied
Any red card offence where mitigation is applied (as per framework)
Shoulder charge to the body (no head or neck contact), with high degree of danger
High tackle with any contact between the tackler’s shoulder or head and the ball-carrier’s head or neck, with low degree of danger, and mitigation is not applied
High tackle with contact from the tackler’s arm to the ball-carrier’s head or neck with low degree of danger, and mitigation is not applied
High tackle with contact from the tackler’s arm, which starts elsewhere on the body and then slips or moves up resulting in minor contact to the ball-carrier’s head or neck, with high degree of danger, and mitigation is not applied
Any yellow card offence where mitigation is applied (as per framework)
Shoulder charge to the body (no head or neck contact), with low degree of danger
High tackle with first contact from the tackler’s arm, which starts elsewhere on the body and then slips or moves up resulting in minor contact to the ball-carrier’s head or neck, with low degree of danger and no mitigating factors
High tackle with first contact above or over the shoulder of the ball carrier, but without contact to the head or neck of the ball carrier during the execution of the tackle (seat belt tackle)