WITH CARDS flying as readily as they will on Valentine’s Day, the issue of officials and their interpretation of the ‘tip tackle’ is raising more than a few hackles.
In a Premiership game at Worcester, Leicester’s Toby Flood was cited for upending Andy Goode. After a two-hour hearing five days later, Flood was cleared of trying to spear his opponent into the ground by virtue of a plea that a team-mate had joined in to drive Goode to the floor, just as Flood was falling.
A flimsy excuse meant the England fly-half was rendered inculpable.
Yet the outcome set a dangerous precedent, because Flood could have seriously injured a fellow professional.
Within a couple of days of this, Wasps wing Tom Varndell had been sent to the sidelines by referee Andrew Small after a ‘tip’ on Bath and Pumas winger Horacio Agulla.
In this incident it was interpreted that in lifting and completing the tackle, despite the angle of the hit and the manner in which the Argentine was safely reacquainted with the turf, Varndell was guilty. He earned himself a yellow card without dropping or driving anyone.
Recent IRB directives ask that punishments pertaining to law 10.4 (j) – ‘Lifting a player from the ground and either dropping or driving that player’s head and/or upper body into the ground whilst the player’s feet are off the ground’ – should be heartily enforced.
So far this season this has meant that young players like Toulouse’s Christopher Tolofua and Cardiff Blues’ Lloyd Williams have had the book thrown at them for their reckless tackling in the Heineken Cup. This is fair enough, but it’s hardly in keeping with the current trend.
Conservatism means an Aviva referee can brandish yellow for fear of disobeying a directive, while a citing panel can get together and agree that no one has earned a spell in the cooler for introducing someone’s head to the dirt.
The directive has created a monster. Not the kind of large, looming monster that has everyone in Europe clamouring for change. It’s the kind of tiny, insidious monster that could whisper in an official’s ear, convincing them that the next yellow should come out for something innocuous.
Inconsistency should not be allowed to reign.
This was published in the March 2013 edition of Rugby World. Click here to see what’s in the current issue.