Welcome back to Loose Pass, our weekly meeting of frazzled frettings, deranged delusions and maddened mutterings.
This week we'll be pushing Jared Payne's red card, a couple of the weekend's tries and rucking techniques over the edge....
Oh yes it was!
Oh no it wasn't!
And so on and so forth. Quite why, after a blistering Heineken Cup weekend featuring 16 tries over four games and one of the finer single-game club performances of recent times (Munster), we should be focussing all our attention on a red card is beyond me, but anyway, we have been requested to analyse, so here we go.
Start off with the law. Law 10.4.(i) is pretty succinct:
Tackling the jumper in the air. A player must not tackle nor tap, push or pull the foot or feet of an opponent jumping for the ball in a line-out or in open play. Sanction: Penalty kick.
Also within the IRB Laws site is a memorandum, dated February 2011, which states:
'It is recognised of course, as with other types of illegal and/or foul play, depending on the circumstances of the high tackle, the range of sanctions extends from a penalty kick to the player receiving a red card. An illegal high tackle involving a stiff arm or swinging arm to the head of the opponent, with no regard to the player's safety, bears all the hallmarks of an action which should result in a red card or a yellow card being seriously considered.
Referees and Citing Commissioners should not make their decisions based on what they consider was the intention of the offending player. Their decision should be based on an objective assessment (as per Law 10.4(e)) of the overall circumstances of the tackle.'
So - at least, not that I could find by fishing around the IRB site - there is no specific memorandum calling for cards, red or otherwise for tackling in the air. However it has become common knowledge that considering the dangers inherent in playing someone in the air, that a yellow card is at least on its way. At some point this was made quite publicly clear, and maybe the memo is just not on the IRB site any more. Or maybe it is the 'other types of illegal and/or foul play' referred to.
So now have a look at Jared Payne's tackle.
There is a lot that is wrong with it. He may protest he was looking at the ball the whole time, but it's tough to buy. From the field position and nature of the kick, only a real recklessness - an important word in this context - might lead a chaser to presume that a full-back or some such would not be in the vicinity of the falling bomb. This was not a chip into space, it was a structured up and under onto an organised defence. Payne had to at least be aware that the chances of someone other than he being under that ball as it came down were extremely high. It is an illegal tackle, and it is absolutely with no regard for safety. It definitely fits the bill as far as card possibilities are concerned.
Importantly also, Jerome Garces appears to at least attempt to remind Payne that he is not there to judge intention. Payne says "I was looking at the ball". Garces says "No, he was in the air. It is a dangerous tackle." So Garces has again followed the law - it isn't about Payne's intent, it is about what happened.
And then the final damning sentence: "The contact of the player with the ground is with the head," says Garces - who was informed of such by his TMO while the replays were being shown as well. He then flourishes the red card.
It's therefore easy to say that Payne got his marching orders only because Goode was so badly injured - that the punishment fits the crime, that Payne might have taken only ten minutes has Goode been able to carry on. But I am not buying that. The way Goode landed, he had a higher chance of being injured than not. Payne was reckless and dangerous when he didn't need to be, and ended up causing serious injury as a result - the overall circumstances of the tackle. Intent doesn't come into it. It had to be red. Garces, like Alain Rolland in the World Cup semi-final, had an ice-cold decision to make, and got it spot on.
It's also quite rational to argue that all Payne had to do was jump. Have a look at 0.10 of this clip: from Toulon v Leinster and you will see a similar mid-air collision, followed by a similar body crunch into the turf, followed by Wayne Barnes saying quite clearly "competition for the ball". Payne was certainly on time for the falling bomb... should he have jumped?
There were some awful bits of defence this weekend. Toulon's second try here at 03.50 was the result of an unforgiveably bad decision by Mathieu Bastareaud, whose only saving grace was the fact that he offloaded to Drew Mitchell. But the Leinster tackling was atrocious at that point - Bastareaud should have been pummelled into the turf and stripped.
Quite what Leicester's defence was thinking when Aurelien Rougerie ran across the pitch at 0.10 here is beyond us, but it left a four on two, with Fofana's sublime handling leaving it two on none and only the cover to beat. But even then Leicester's cover seemed to still be sleeping. It took them an age to get across, by which time a prop had managed to run 15m before offloading.
Still, Clermont's defence was hardly much better when Leicester scored. All 15 Clermont players were in one half of the pitch when Owen Williams put his kick across... Can you beat Clermont by stretching them side to side?
Ulster's back row was missing in action for Chris Ashton's first try here at 1.20 but watch the replay from the end-on angle. Who is that standing in the spot where Ulster's defensive line would be (at 1.48)? One Mr. Jerome Garces... I doubt there'll be many postcards with Belfast postmarks in his Christmas box this week...
And Chris Ashton's showboating finish? He really is a prat isn't he?
Finally, in response to your comments of the last two weeks - and particularly Mr. Jonathan O'Toole's frustrations last week - I watched the rucks closely this week. And yes, I'd agree, there is a nagging trend developing at rucks where cleaners are either cleaning at the very edges of the gate - gate, posts and some of the fence either side is occasionally removed - while there are also on occasion cleaners going through, arriving on the opposition side of the ruck and then hanging around and being a nuisance.
The most shining example of the latter was Stade Francais lock Rabah Slimani, who not only stood on Harlequins' side of the ruck with his own team in possession, he then proceeded to pull a Harlequins counter-rucker out by the back of his shirt!
The latter is just a nuisance and a quick bout of policing ought to clean it up, but the former is both a lot more potentially influencing on a game and a lot harder to judge.
The two defenders who position up closest to the ruck without joining it are the most important defenders to get into position. If an attacking team breaks you there, you have someone behind your defensive line, central to the position of play, usually with space either side and ahead past the full-back. It's the optimal attacking break position, so taking out these defenders is a plus.
However, the clean-outs of this nature usually happen as a ruck is forming rather than when it is over, meaning - as coaches generally tell their players - cleaners have a licence to clean out anything within a couple of metres of the ball, while for referees, who will be looking for ball placement, ball steal, tackler release etc etc, it's something significantly less material to the ruck, in the moment when it happens, than other things around the ball that are occurring.
Illegal it is, but I have yet to see a definitive moment where it made a big difference, where the desired clean break was achieved. And I suspect, that in a moment where it did, the referee concerned would know to make the right call. Further debate welcome - keep the questions and discussions coming!
Loose Pass is written by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens