‘Let us scrap!’ – England great calls for officials to turn a blind eye to handbags

Colin Newboult
England and South Africa scrap during the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final.

England and South Africa scrap during the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final.

Former England flanker Courtney Lawes believes that the rugby hierarchy are trying to sanitise the game too much.

World Rugby have clamped down on dangerous actions such as collisions with the head, which can cause concussions and have damaging long-term effects.

Punching has also been outlawed and is viewed as a red card offence should it occur when a fight breaks out.

As a result, match officials are intensely analysing anything that occurs in a scuffle, from the instigator to any unnecessary reaction.

Lawes’ view

While Lawes agrees that the governing body are right to punish on any dangerous actions, he doesn’t see what is wrong with a bit of extra aggression between two sides.

At the moment, the Northampton Saints man feels that the referees and television match officials are being over-officious when scuffles break out.

“I think a lot of the things fans like to see we are now trying to get rid of. Handbags for example, and having scraps on the pitch,” he said on The Good, The Bad and The Rugby podcast.

“We don’t want to be throwing punches and battering each other, but there’s not a fan in the world that doesn’t like a team getting in the mixer and having a scrap.

“The fans get into it. We had it against Munster last season. I wasn’t playing, so I was in the crowd, and we had a big scrap, and you should have seen everyone getting on their feet.

“For the next 10 minutes, people are flying into each other. That’s the kind of stuff people love.”

Players are perhaps becoming more wary of getting involved in scraps, given the risk of conceding an important penalty.

What happens in ice hockey

Lawes is therefore a fan of how ice hockey is refereed, where players are allowed to go at each other when there is a disagreement.

Although the ex-England forward doesn’t want to see the sheer violence of those fights repeated in rugby union, he does like the fact that players are allowed to clash.

“At the minute, we’ve got refs, who have got too many rules to follow as it is, and then they are essentially mummying the players on the pitch and threatening… detention, if you misbehave,” he added.

“If you look at ice hockey, they’re not getting rid of the fights because they know that’s what fans want to see.

“I’m not saying we want to see fights on the pitch, and I’m not saying that’s going to make the game better, but it’s one area we’re actually taking away our product, we’re taking away some excitement.”

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