In a recent blog I made suggestions for simplifying the rules for when a ball-carrying player is injured by a defender of the opposing team in the game of Rugby Union. [This is an amendment of that article No 322.] Having watched some of the 2019 Rugby World Cup games in Japan, I think my suggestions have merit.
In the previous article I commented, “Does Rugby Union have a problem? Yes, it has one that comes from their attempt to make the game safer for its players. But perhaps inadvertently it has made the situation worse.”
I saw two problems that needed to be addressed.
The First Problem Was The One To Do With Crowd Support. [Duty Of Care For The Supporters.]
I thought of many games when players were sent off for ten minute periods for yellow card offences, and for the rest of the game for more serious red card offences. Games in which this happens, lose their purpose and meaning.
The purpose of a test match between two nations is to have a competition where the best players of each nation seek to have a victory over the same number of players of the other nation by using superior skill-sets, better kicking, attacking and defending skills and often a more clever use of power.
The fans are best served by having full number of players on the field throughout the match. Otherwise it becomes an uneven and ultimately disappointing contest for the fans. If these send-offs are to continue to happen, then the support base for the game could seriously diminish. It could ultimately result in a loss of interest for young people in playing the game, and crippling financial losses as well.
The Second Problem Has To Deal With The Safety Of The Players. [Duty Of Care For The Players.]
Teams are chosen to represent the best team to overcome and defeat the opposition. That means there must be an equal number of players on the field at all times. Not only that, but the safety of the players must be paramount. That is why in world Rugby there has been a determined attempt to prevent or minimise head injuries of attacking players in tackles made by defending players. There are in place difficult criteria that seek to determine whether the tackle was lawful or unlawful and also whether the alleged illegal tackle was intentional or not. Those details are virtually impossible to ascertain in the moments following the tackle. And how can you determine the intention of any tackler anyway? There must be a better way.
Here are some of my suggestions to help save Rugby as a sporting and safer spectacle.
A]. Intention cannot be proven. So scrap that part of the equation in determining the penalty for a perceived illegal tackle during a game. Consider these alternatives!
When a tackler makes what appears to be a shoulder charge and/or contact with the head [or above the shoulders] of the ballcarrier, then the following procedures should be put in place.
- Both the tackler and the person tackled should be forced to leave the field of play and the latter be examined for any symptoms of head injury. Reserves are brought on immediately to replace these 2 players to maintain a 15 a side contest. When that is done, a scrum should be formed and the attacking team at the time of the incident, should feed the resulting scrum.
- If the tackled player is deemed to be free of any head injury and is medically allowed to return to the field of play then that can happen. However the alleged illegal tackler has to remain on the reserve bench and can only be used as the final replacement later in the game if that is necessary.
- If the person who was tackled is unable to return to the field of play because a head injury is deemed to have occurred, then the tackler can play no further part in the game. If through a tackle someone is taken out of the game [regardless of whether it is deemed to be accidental or deliberate] then it is fair that the one who caused that to happen [the tackler] should also be taken out of the game.
- Reviews of the incident can be assessed more seriously and more leisurely following the game and any further penalties can be brought to bear if necessary, on the alleged illegal tackler.
B]. Advantages of the above process
- It maintains an even contest between two 15 a side teams for the entire match.
- It avoids the danger that come from having undermanned teams physically putting themselves at risk in seeking to overcome their deficit in player strength and numbers.
- It avoids the needless stoppages in play as endless replays of such incidents are played on the ground big screens. Fans come to see action football, not several replays of the same incident.
- It prevents the disadvantage of players cooling down waiting for some decision to be made as to the legality or otherwise of a tackle.
- It avoids the increasing anger of supporters when they begin to realise [or imagine] the severity and danger of a disputed tackle after watching several replays.
- It obviates the need to form a fair judgment during the duration of a match, on the intentionality or otherwise of any tackler.
- It allows longer periods of time to conduct reviews of disputed tackles. This should result in fairer outcomes for both the tackler and the player who was tackled.
- It avoids the difficulty for referees in having to make-on-the spot decisions regarding the intentionality of the tackler, the severity of the tackle and the appropriate penalty to be applied.
- It protects referees and other match officials from being unjustly accused of showing bias towards a certain team or player because they would now be seen to be applying a blanket rule that applies to both teams.
- It also helps ensure the continuing contribution to the game of Rugby, of quality referees because they are not having to make rapid value judgments and impose penalties in such incidents. It would show duty of care to referees if the responsibility of decision making on suspected illegal tackles was taken by a group of people who could assess such incidents in a more considered manner.
So there is my contribution to saving Rugby Union as a sport. The rules are simple and could be applied almost immediately.
- It offers a real duty of care for the team supporters, so they get value for the money they have spent in following their team to often distant lands.
- It offers duty of care for players in having evenly numbered teams contesting for success. It offers a fairer assessment of intentionality [if that is ever possible] and an easier way of ensuring players are immediately protected in disputed tackles.
- It offers duty of care for referees and other match officials when contentious situations occur, to have such situations handled later by a group rather than by an individual.
- It should also help reduce the number of illegal tackles in games as selectors would be hesitant to select players who infringe regularly when they play.
At a time when many former players of contact sports such as Rugby Union, Rugby League and American Football have been diagnosed as suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy [CTE] from repeated head injuries, these suggestions above could make a difference. There is nothing more excruciating than seeing a player who had received an obvious blow to the head in a tackle get up, shake his head, stagger a bit and then keep on playing. Such an incident occurred in a recent Rugby League match and questions were raised as to why the player was not immediately examined for a Head Injury Assessment. Duty of care for players, demands it should be mandatory to do so.
Real duty of care demands that any blow to the head should be taken seriously and immediate assessment for damage take place. My humble suggestions above, attempt to go some distance in making that provision.
Blog No. 328. Posted by Jim Holbeck on www.jimholbeck.blog on Monday 30th September 2019.