There’s a number of talking points that could take centre stage after Saturday night’s fourth Bledisloe Test; the All Blacks Brisbane hoodoo continuing as the Wallabies took their first win in the contest in three years, Ian Foster’s “dead rubber” lineup failing to fire, the rustiness – if we’re being charitable – of Beauden Barrett in the 10 jersey, or TJ Perenara’s emotive side running amok when cooler heads were needed.
Obviously though, its none of those in the immediate aftermath. Rather it’s the pair of first-half red cards issued to All Black prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Wallaby loosie Lachlan Swinton, and the cries of the game being ‘ruined’ and ‘going soft’.
World Rugby has been unrepentant in their aims to reform the game in the name of player safety, and direct contact with the head – with the shoulder and with force – as seen in both examples last night is exactly what the governing body is trying to eradicate from the game, with referees at all levels required to know, and enforce their directive. It’s no different for me on a Saturday afternoon than it was for Nic Berry and co at Suncorp.
Tu’ungafasi probably couldn’t believe his luck when debutant Wallaby winger Tom Wright crossed his sights in the 23rd minute and delivered the sort of bone-crunching hit that’s part of his reputation. Except that this time his shoulder connected with Wright’s chin, and after a review, he was given his marching orders joining Maurice Brownlie, Colin Meads, Sonny Bill Williams, and Scott Barrett as All Blacks sent off in Tests.
But was big Ofa unlucky? Wright was falling at the point of contact, something due to his ankles being clipped by Ardie Savea a moment before. While World Rugby’s directive is clear, it also provides for mitigation if there is a “sudden change in height” by the ballcarrier. That was considered and dismissed by Berry and his team of assistants but we’re talking nanoseconds here and I defy anyone who thinks that Tu’ungafasi could have adjusted in that time. I think you can make a case either way.
As for Swinton though, its a lot more clear cut. There’s wanting to make an impact on your test debut, and then there’s doing something really dumb when your team has a man advantage with nearly an hour to play.
But what about the spectacle of the game? Rugby is a team sport and the greatest deterrent to an early shower is letting down your mates on the field, but the appetite of the viewing public is for 15-on-15 even when a player is dismissed. So how does World Rugby manage the two? Is it an on-report system – which is ridiculous in my view, if you do something then you should face sanction within it where possible – or removing the player from play but allowing them to be replaced after 20 or 40 minutes? And how do you deal with outright thuggery and filth versus someone getting their technique or timing slightly wrong?
That’s as much of a challenge for the game’s rulers as anything else it faces right now.
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