There are a lot of questions being asked about the Chiefs front row, and the finish to the game on Saturday night v the Hurricanes.
Let’s quickly do a recap. In the first half Chiefs tighthead Atu Moli goes down injured. He is replaced by Siate Tokolahi who has played tighthead for the Chiefs regularly this season. It is interesting to note that he is described as a “versatile prop” by the Chiefs website, and has the ability to play tighthead and loosehead.
With just over 5 minutes to play, this is what has been alleged to have happened. There is a lineout, which #17 Siate Tokolahi takes part in, he then runs to a breakdown (which he doesn’t engage in). The Hurricanes lose the ball, and it will be a Chiefs scrum, 22 meters in front of their own posts. The Hurricanes have been dominating the Chiefs scrum, and would confidently back themselves to get a scrum penalty to go in front, indeed this is something that looks quite likely to happen. However there is a stoppage because Aaron Cruden is bleeding profusely from the head. Tokolahi is not injured at this point, he is on his feet looking fine. A Chiefs medic runs on the field, ignores the bleeding Cruden, and makes a beeline for Tokolahi. A quick word in his ear and pat on the shoulder, and Tokolahi falls to the ground. He looks to be suddenly and inexplicably “injured” and “unable to continue”.
However the medic sees Cruden bleeding and leaves Tokolahi. Tokolahi gets up and looks to rejoin the Chiefs huddle. A separate Chiefs water carrier then comes to Tokolahi, puts a hand on his stomach and says something to him. Tokolahi again goes down. Tokolahi stands up again, and the Chiefs water carrier starts a very long sentence to Tokolahi. At this point Hika Elliot comes over and looks to be explaining something to Tokolahi. Tokolahi goes down again. He is then escorted off by the medic, who is supporting Tokolahi, and gets Tokolahi to put his arm around him. Notably, at no stage do any of the medics treat or check Tokolahi for an injury.
The Chiefs look to replace Tokolahi with Siegfried Fisiihoi (#18). The Chiefs advise the referee that Fisiihoi is unable to play tighthead, and thus they would like to go to uncontested scrums. At this point the sideline official steps in, correctly applying rule 3.6(d).
Tokolahi was therefore unable to be replaced, and Fisiihoi was required to leave the field. The Chiefs play with 14 for the remainder of the game.
There are a number of issues with this.
Let’s take Tokolahi’s “injury” first. It was very easy to gain the impression that Tokolahi has been instructed to fake an injury. If this was true, it is outright cheating at worst, and morally bankrupt at best. Yes we all want to win games of rugby, but this would make a mockery of everything the Chiefs jersey stands for. If it’s true, this is not what rugby stands for, nor wants, in its games. If true, SANZAAR should step in and punish the Chiefs accordingly for bringing the game into disrepute.
Secondly – why was the Chiefs teamsheet filled out incorrectly? SANZAAR regulations require the teams to designate their reserve props by position (they can be listed LH, TH, Hooker, or any combination – so it is possible for a prop to be suitably trained and experienced to play more than one position). The Chiefs did not do this – they simply listed Tokolahi and Fisiihoi as ‘Front Row’.
We have already highlighted Tokolahi’s ability to play both sides of the scrum. Fisiihoi has played LH for the Chiefs regularly this season. However he has also had considerable experience playing TH – notably starting for Bay of Plenty Steamers in an ITM Cup semi-final last year. This raises the question – was the Chiefs omission of specific positions in the team sheet simply an error, or done on purpose to ensure they could fudge if they needed to? This is a question that becomes more interesting given that the Chiefs have had a significant number of prop injuries this year. Again this is something SANZAAR should be investigating.
Thirdly – should Fisiihoi have been required to play tighthead with contested scrums? We must delve into some law here briefly. The requirements for Super Rugby teams is that they must be able to replace each starting front rower at the first time of asking (so LH, Hooker and TH must all be covered by a separate person).
However it becomes painfully clear that these are MINIMUM obligations. Look at the first sentence above. If these are minimum obligations – that suggests that if there is another suitably trained and experienced player that can prop at the second time of asking (as what happened in the Chiefs game after two TH injuries), he must come on and contest the scrum. So far, there can be no arguments. Rule 3.6(a) suggests the same thing – if you can put a suitably trained and experienced front row together you must, before going to uncontested scrums.
So the only remaining question is – was Siegfried Fisiihoi suitable trained and experienced to play TH prop? The law states that this is not the referee’s determination.
It is clear that Fisiihoi (a professional and experienced rugby player) has played TH prop on multiple occasions in a professional competition (ITM Cup). This surely would make him suitably trained and experienced to play TH. However the above rule states it is the team’s responsibility to determine ‘suitably trained and experienced’. The Chiefs would argue no-one else can make this determination. However this determination must be the subject of review by SANZAAR; just as a team fielding an inexperienced, untrained prop in a game under SANZAAR’s jurisdiction can and should expect SANZAAR sanction or review as to why this prop played. There therefore should be a SANZAAR sanction or review as to why Fisiihoi didn’t play.
So that’s three areas that SANZAAR should be investigating. It will be interesting to see what happens here.