Directors of rugby around the Premiership are confused about the incoming tackle laws and how they are going to be refereed
Richard Cockerill, the director of rugby at Leicester, has been around the block a bit, and most things that rugby throws up would not surprise him, but even he is a bit flummoxed by the new tackle regulations.
Cockerill knows his rugby – he played 27 times for England as a hooker, about 250 games for Leicester as a member of the famed ABC Club and played in France before coaching for the last 11 years. Even he does not really know what is going on, so what chance the rest of us?
The new laws which totally outlaw contact with an opponent’s head do not actually come into force until 3 January but, in the last two rounds of European games, officials have employed an iron fist policy on high tackles and swinging arms.
The new regulations say a tackle will be ruled reckless if the tackler knew, or should have known, there was a chance of making contact with the head and it happened anyway. Well, it is happening already.
Cockerill for one will be seeking guidance from the authorities as to what is actually high tackle but some people are forecasting game ending in 12 or 13 a side in the New Year. Penalties are turning into yellow cards and yellow cards are turning into red – all club bosses want is to know where they stand. I know it’s Christmas but the flood of cards is getting ridiculous and these bloke’s jobs are on the line.
The grim statistics show us that over the last fortnight, in Europe Champions and Challenge Cup games, nine players have seen red and a staggering 51 yellow cards have been shown. The European Professional Club Rugby disciplinary bods have been putting in some shift and their emails are now more regular than ones telling you that you have $10million dollars sitting in a Nigerian bank account as the latest player gets a couple of weeks off.
Cockerill saw Manu Tuilagi sin-binned, for the second week running, for a late and highish challenge against Munster and then watched the Sale match against Saracens on Sunday night on the box.
That game produced three yellow cards for the home side including one for TJ Ioane for not wrapping his arms round in a challenge.
That led to Steve Diamond, the Sale boss, predicting touch rugby in the future and his Saracens counterpart Mark McCall is completely befuddled by the way the game is changing week by week.
And Dai Young was equally confused by the yellow Kurtley Beale got in his first game for Wasps, against Connacht.
Cockerill thought Ioane got a bad break.
“It will be interesting to see the exact guidelines,” he said. “I watched Sale v Saracens and I thought it was a really good tackle. He has hit with his shoulder and it was a chest tackle.
“I am not sure what you can do. Accidents do happen. I understand you don’t want people swinging arms to peoples’ heads – I get that – concussion is serious issue in the game.
“It is just the interpretation of it. What is a tackle? If someone commits themselves and a player dips their head at the last moment.
“There will be a lot of incidents where guys will be in the bin or sent off where it is probably a bit harsh but by the letter of the law that is what they (the referees) are being asked to do.
“What they are concerned about is people swinging their arms and hitting. We see a lot of penalties these days for high tackles and it is just a scrag really.
“It is just hard. When those big guys hit you they hit you with their shoulder and their arm can’t catch up. If it is hitting in the body like the lad from Sale – I thought it was a justifiable tackle.”
Talk to any rugby coach nowadays, and most of them have played a bit, about they are very guarded about their words. No-one wants to say the game has gone soft, Diamond said the opposite because the players have got bigger, and no-one wants to come across as a ‘back in my day’ merchant.
Concussion is massive news, just look at the furore kicked up by the George North case, but the game is changing in front of our faces and it is doing it a rate of knots.
There are million dollar law suits going on in the United States concerning former NFL players who have been concussed and suffered ill health. So referees have to ref to the letter of the law.
“I think everybody should ask for some really clear direction on what is a tackle and what is a head shot,” added Cockerill. “If you hit them really hard in the chest and they get whiplash is that a dangerous tackle because he got hit hard?
“There are going to be some big people hitting some little people – that is the game.
“We will chew the fat about it no-one will really know and we will get on with the game.
“We will look at it. We encourage our players to tackle low and the second man to slow the ball down. It is a very direct game – accidents are going to happen.
“Europe has been refereed differently. The game we are in you can’t bump a player with your shoulder 1/100th of a second after the ball goes – you can’t tackle someone a fraction of a second late because you go to the bin. It just seems to be the way of the world.
“Across the board the interpretation, of what a tackle is, is certainly going to be interesting in the New Year.”
You are not wrong there Cockers and when you find out what is and isn’t a bad tackle – can you let us know?