In 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball in his arms and ran with it. And for the next 156 years forwards have been trying to work out why. - Tasker Watkins VC, LJ.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cite Them All, Let God Sort It Out.

A paraphrase of a paraphrase for a title. The origin of which title comes from the heartland of French rugby.

The Albigensian Crusade is called after the town of Albi, in the heat of l'Ovalie, the south west of France where rugby is played. It was aimed after the Albigensians, heretics from Albi (not, strictly, that being from Albi is a heresy in and of itself, despite what Castres Olympique fans think).

When the town of Beziers - where Munster played Castres in the 2002 HEC semi final, of happy memory - was attacked, Arnald Amary, a leader of the crusade was supposed to have been asked what should be done with the prisoners and to have replied, "Kill them all. God will know his own" (in fairness, there's no direct record of this, and it was only ever that he was reported to have said it).

On which note, I would like to look at a case from the Junior Rugby World Cup in France, the appeal of Luan de Bruin, tighthead prop of the Baby Boks, against his suspension for a tip-tackle. You can read the Decision HERE; significantly, it was Tim Gresson hearing it. As head of the IRB Judicial Panel, Gresson's opinions carry very considerable weight indeed as a pointer of how the IRB see things developing.

The tackle in question, as with so many tip-tackles, involved two players lifting plus the tackled player, but de Bruin was the only one cited. In the appeal, it largely turned on whether the tip was largely down to the other player. That line was rejected, and the appeal failed on that grounds. Interestingly, the case of Toby Flood, a controversial decision which, in my opinion, was out of line with the ERC and IRB approach to this, was relied upon by Counsel for de Bruin, Adv. Swart, and was implicitly if not openly distinguished by the hearing which held that the approach of leaving off the cited player who played a lesser role was not the approach to be followed.

Adv. Swart, correctly accepted in argument that it was open to hold that the tip-tackle was the fault of both players, or indeed largely of the other player, and that if this was found to be the case, then the sentence of four weeks was wholly disproportionate in the circumstances; this was accepted.

The real significance is in paragraph 12 of the judgement, which, while it is strictly a comment instead of a finding, is worth reproducing in full:

A final comment. This is yet another case which gives rise to the issue as to whether it is appropriate for Citing Commissioners to cite more than one player in respect of incidents similar to that which has occurred in this case. In my view where more than one player has contributed to a dangerous lifting situation (whether in a tackle or otherwise) Citing Commissioners could give serious consideration to reviewing the totality of the actions of all the participants in relation to the incident and then decide whether the cumulative effect of their actions warranted the awarding of a red card to any and/or all of those players involved. If the Citing Commission considers that a participant's actions in such an incident do not meet the red card threshold but another participant's actions do and such player(s) is cited than that determination should be particularised in the citing report. It follows, if there are multiple citings of players involved in the incident and they are upheld then it would be the responsibility of the Judicial Officer to assess the extent to which each of the players involved contributed to the incident of Foul Play and sanction accordingly. What is paramount is that acts of Foul Play which meet the red card threshold are cited and subject to the rigours of judicial scrutiny. [Emphasis added]

So, in other words: if there are more than one player involved in a red card incident, look at what the actions added up to and cite that if it meets the threshold - and make it clear why you're not citing all of them if you only cite one, because red card offences should be cited.

So, to give recent examples: Toby Flood would on this basis almost certainly have been done for the tackle along with his team-mate, as both contributed to an unquestionably dangerous tackle. Joint lifting tackles are now even more risky, because a coach who trains his players to do this could lose more than one player to citing. Bringing the tackled player down safely - which, somewhat paradoxically, is tricker with two players, because there are two people who can misread a situation or get it wrong - is now even more important. At a time when Dan Lydiate's remorselessly-efficient ankle-chopping style contributed in no small part to the Lions series, it would make one wonder whether, when it comes to the lifting tackle, that game is worth the candle anymore.

Be that as it may; whether coaches make that decision, it looks like we may well be in for a continued crackdown on tip-tackles at IRB level. Whether this lasts into the upcoming Rugby Championship will be interesting to watch.

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