So, I saw a tweet from @JoshGardner of the @bloodandmud podcast and it got me thinking (well as close as my head gets to thinking Seriously it’s like 2 marbles and an empty tin can up there), mainly because as cynical as it may appear he’s probably right:
Take a look at @joshgardner’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/joshgardner/status/811241510998044675?s=09
World Rugby certainly appear to have rushed through the new “directive”, brining it in mid-season for the Northern Hemisphere competitions seems a little strange, although they appear to tinker with rules on an almost monthly basis (seriously, who releases their bind to collapse a scrum? You only release when the other guy’s forcing you down anyway and there’s now more rules for a rolling maul than there are for entering North Korea). If the new approach is guided by the NFL lawsuit brought by ex-players (and the result of which was then subject to an appeal) this maybe just the first step on a windy road. The NFL lawsuit was largely focussed on the belief that the NFL hid information that related to head trauma and the settlement from the resulting case was worth $765 million, since World Rugby has hardly hid or shied away from the issues of head trauma they already seem ahead of their American counterparts in this area (which is just as well since the chances that World Rugby have that sort of spare cash are pretty remote). However when the NFL changed the rules regarding hits to the head as a precautionary measure they saw an increase in the number of knee injuries because players were so intent of tackling the ball carrier’s lower body. As a result they then had introduce another new rule regarding low tackles on Quarterbacks (you can’t tackle below the knee or above the shoulders now), so if World Rugby have been influenced by recent history we could well be looking at more new rules (please God no) and we might as well all play football and take our chances with heading a lump of leather.
There are also other injury risks related to tweaking the tackle rules as illustrated perfectly by the “Archbishop of Banter-bury” James Haskell on Sunday when he momentarily become “concussed of Coventry” as he managed to smash his head into Freddie Burns (who may have since gained the nickname “Bones”) hip and knock himself unconscious, Haskell had only been on the pitch for around 34 seconds following a 6 month injury layoff (and I bet you didn’t think he did irony). It was a completely innocuous and accidental contact but can’t have been any safer than being knocked out by a high tackle, World Rugby may have seriously misjudged just how quickly collisions happen in professional rugby today. I can’t imagine anybody did, but somebody really should have kept a record of how many players were subject to a HIA after putting their head in the wrong position when tackling low at the weekend. Technically it’s poor technique on behalf of the tackler, but when ball carriers are so big and the game moves at such a high pace then it’s understandable accidents will happen (likewise when it comes to high tackles when a more nimble player steps inside a slower defender, but you won’t get sent off for putting your hip into a potential tackler).
The second area I think the governing body have sorely misjudged is the amount of empathy that referee’s have for players and for different scenarios within the game (the ball of confusion and contention that is the rolling maul is an example), Richard Barrington’s red card on Saturday was the most widely picked bone of contention in the first weekend, but boy was it controversial. The only way Barrington could have avoided being part of the tackle would have been to retreat and any professional sports man or woman isn’t going to run away from the ball during a match. Brad Barritt who knocked Geoff Parling out with a swinging arm didn’t even get a yellow card from a referee and TMO who were clearly so flustered by what had happened and what they were forced to do by the new guidelines that the rest of the game degenerated into 15 Exeter players who were desperate not to give the officials an opportunity to level the playing field (so to speak) and a set of officials were almost solely concentrated on looking for high tackles whilst missing (or ignoring) more basic offences like forward passes and knock on’s. It will be interesting to see how many players Glen Jackson sends off for high tackles or how many Nick Wood or Karl Dickson would send off with them all having been involved in professional games in recent memory.
Finally, if these rules remain in place for the rest of the year then there has to a be a real chance that the Lions and All Blacks will be playing most of their Test series with as many players sat in the stands as on the field of play because the Kiwis won’t miss a chance to have an opponent sent off and the Lions coach is a Kiwi too.