Loose Pass: Tackles, referees and prop goals

Date published: November 7 2018

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with tackles, referees and bizarre drop goals…

History lesson

That tackle. It’s been rewatched, discussed, picked apart, beautifully satirised. And it’s taken a long time to work out what the outcome should have been. But history shows us the way.

The most poignant reminder of how such a tackle can change a game is one we recall from way, way back, when Wales beat England 32-31 at Wembley. Everybody remembers the Scott Gibbs try of course, but less talked-about at the time was the penalty shortly before which put Wales into their final, fateful attacking position.

Then it was Tim Rodber, squaring up to Colin Charvis near the Welsh 22 and then, realising that Charvis’ running angle was going to trap his head on the wrong side of the tackle, Rodber turned and body-checked Charvis, vainly trying to use his other arm to at least get some sort of hold on Charvis and make it not look quite like the check it had become.

It briefly worked, but an eagle-eyed linesman spotted the transgression and Wales got the penalty. Rodber rolled his eyes so hard when Andre Watson admonished him that his entire body almost followed, but it was a fair call. It was not malicious – indeed, it was a self-protective measure: had Rodber tried to make a proper tackle he was running a serious risk of a nasty injury. But it was a fair call, an improper tackle with no arms. Neil Jenkins launched the penalty to touch some 45 metres downfield and the rest is a very colourful part of Welsh history.

The similarities to Owen Farrell’s tackle are uncanny. Farrell had shaped to make a tackle with the other shoulder but Andre Esterhuizen swerved onto Farrell’s other shoulder, leaving the English fly-half with his head on the wrong side. With no time to adjust his entire upper body, Farrell was left with the choice to try and adjust, potentially putting his neck straight into the point of contact, or to move his neck away and use his arm instead.

Just as with Rodber, Farrell’s other arm also came up in a half-hearted attempt to at least wrap something up, but given the huge impact, Esterhuizen had bounced away before it got anywhere near. This was not a malicious tackle, this was an angle gone wrong and a measure of self-preservation.

But the fact still stands: Farrell did not wrap and he made contact with his arm by his side, not his shoulder. Whether it was meant to be a body-check or not, it was, and this is the point of this text.

Angus Gardner said there wasn’t enough in it for him, but enough of what? Referees are not there to judge intent, they are there to judge outcomes. The outcome of this incident was most definitely an illegal tackle with no arms, and it should have been a penalty. South Africa can feel rightly aggrieved.

But the problem is, as Shaun Edwards explained on Tuesday, that the stringent new tackle laws can vilify such incidents to such an extent that Farrell might have ended up over-punished. There’s no way this tackle was a red or even a yellow card, it was simply a collision which didn’t quite conform to technique.

Yet had Mr. Gardner given the penalty, the new laws would almost have obliged him to mete out some form of card as punishment and here, you feel, is the rub. Once he had decided it was not malicious, you feel he might have been compelled to call it as no card, so no penalty; that the new laws make such incidents black and white in an extreme way compared to yesteryear.

The new tackle laws have done the game a service on many occasion, but they haven’t worked so well here.

Four eyes

Eddie Jones’ solution to refereeing controversy on Tuesday was to insert an additional set of eyes on the pitch (although what is the TMO for if it is not that) to look in the corners that a referee following the ball cannot.

An interesting theory, and one that is well-used at times in rugby league, but surely it couldn’t work in union.

The ball moves more from spot to spot on the pitch in union, while having two referees inspecting each ruck would simply serve to both confuse the decision-making and clutter up the contact zone with even more lumps of flesh.

Jones is an innovator, as we well know, but this one is a little too far out of the box.

How about this for nerves?

Had Farrell’s hit been deemed illegal, South Africa would have had a long-range penalty for the win.

In Berlin at the weekend, a local team also had such a penalty: the last kick of the game, some 40 metres from goal.

With the team’s regular kicker either less than confident or off the pitch, the call for volunteers went out, and up stepped a teenage prop, who subsequently took the rather unusual step of removing his boots before the big moment…

He also eschewed the virtues of a kicking tee, preferring the good old coarse rugby variant of taking a drop kick for the three-pointer.

40 metres. Drop goal. In socks. For a cup win.

And as with Gibbs’ try and Gardner’s no-call, the rest, as they say, is history…

Loose Pass compiled by Lawrence Nolan