Headcases must see red for high shots
The Premiership and Six Nations are on red alert but the safety message has not got through to the players… headcases must see red for high shots
- Match officials have no choice as contact with the head must be eradicated
- There were five dismissals in England’s top division over the weekend
- The common feature was a look of incredulity on the face of the offender
The Premiership is on red alert, declared Nick Mullins on BT Sport and the same applies to the Six Nations. Players are being sent off in droves, but still the penny isn’t dropping.
There were five dismissals in England’s top division over the weekend, with three at Welford Road alone. The common feature was a look of incredulity on the face of the offender before their abrupt exit. But the time for shock and surprise has long since passed.
Val Rapava Ruskin, Mike Williams, Jasper Wiese and Kieran Brookes all made contact with the head of an opponent and were rightly sent off. Leicester flanker Hanro Liebenberg was dismissed for colliding with the airborne Josh Bassett, which sent the Wasps wing crashing head-first into the ground. That incident appeared accidental, but the lack of intent made no difference.
Peter O’Mahony was sent off following a reckless elbow to the head of prop Tomas Francis
This is the way it has to be. Officials have no choice. They don’t want to remove players from the field but they know that contact with the head must be eradicated from the game as much as possible.
Tough action must be taken again and again until the message gets through.
‘This weekend seems to be a wake-up call to everyone,’ said Wasps head coach Lee Blackett. ‘We need to keep people lowering their heights and looking after the safety of all the players.’
There is still too much emphasis on defence as an offensive weapon and about physicality at the breakdown.
Val Rapava Ruskin was one of the players guilty of making contact with an opponent’s head
Stop the high shots on carriers who have already been slowed or halted in their tracks by a first tackler. Stop fired-up players flying into rucks to perform violent clear-outs, sometimes without any prospect of winning the ball.
The Six Nations has been scarred by the latter problem. Peter O’Mahony of Ireland and Scotland’s Zander Fagerson were both guilty of avoidable acts of aggression.
Heads must be protected. Rugby is a confrontational sport and it cannot be utterly sanitised, but coaches must preach and players must practise more selective use of extreme force.
Tackles should be routinely lower and those who jackal for the ball cannot continue to be subjected to such brutal treatment.
Bath lock Mike Williams saw red for after a shoulder-led high hit on Gloucester’s Kyle Moyle
Whether the balance of the breakdown contest needs to be revised, in terms of laws and interpretations, is another matter.
When the Six Nations resumes next weekend, all those taking part must heed this latest wake-up call, or the championship could be wrecked by disciplinary trouble.
No more incredulity. No more excuses. Stay lower, stay safer.
France have named a reshuffled 31-man squad for their Six Nations clash with Scotland in Paris on Sunday, with their Toulouse talisman Antoine Dupont one of five players left out after testing positive for Covid.
Head coach Fabien Galthie and two of his assistants have also tested positive, so the outbreak is significantly disrupting the French campaign.
The Scottish Rugby Union have every right to seek assurances about the steps being taken to ensure the safety of their travelling squad.
How ironic that it is their side who are struggling to contain the virus, having raised Irish eyebrows with their dressing room celebrations in Dublin.
The last word
The RFU are aiming to revive the Saxons — the England ‘A’ team — which is great news for all the good young England players striving to make a Test case.
Ideally, a coach would be given autonomy to pick whoever they wish — even those men whose faces don’t seem to fit in Eddie Jones’s plans, such as Sam Simmonds and Alex Dombrandt.
If the Saxons were going to face Wales ‘A’ next weekend, how about this line-up of those in fine club form, with a few senior players to guide the rookies (one of whom makes the cut for this hypothetical XV despite being injured).
Convert the rules
High drama in Exeter as Joe Simmonds was denied a lastminute, match-winning conversion by a Northampton charge-down.
The Chiefs fly-half had fractionally ‘advanced’ so the decision was fair, but it wouldn’t hurt to tweak the law.
Give kickers 30 seconds from placing the ball to taking their shot — but keep opponents behind their own line.
Tigers roar again
Leicester appear to be rediscovering their lost identity judging by the way they battered Wasps into submission on Saturday.
Steve Borthwick is building a proper Tigers pack at Welford Road. It’s just a shame that, for now, it relies so much on imported muscle.
Try of the week
Harlequins were electric against Sale and struck superbly from a turnover deep in their own half as Alex Dombrandt swerved into space, his pass released Mike Brown at full tilt and the full back sent Joe Marchant away to score. Classy and clinical.
Sadly, the pitch at Sandy Park is not good enough. It has become a muddy heap which inevitably has a detrimental effect on attacking ambition and creates a throw-back to the amateur era. It needs sorting.
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