Confusion still on cards over Court spear tackle punishment
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe made a very good point following Tom Court's red card for a supposed tip tackle on Leinster lock Devin Toner on Friday night.
His view was that the severity of punishment meted out by referees now appears to hinge on how the player on the receiving end of the tackle or challenge falls rather than on the tackle itself.
"If he falls on his shoulder or neck, it's a red card, but if he falls on his back or his hip it's a yellow card," said the Ulster coach, who had also seen his full-back, Jared Payne, dismissed for an aerial collision with Saracens' Alex Goode in the Heineken Cup quarter-final four weeks earlier.
"Well, that's nothing to do with the intent, so it's inconsistent – you toss a coin.
"If the guy puts his arm down to protect his fall, he's protecting the offender because he's looking out for himself in falling," Anscombe reasoned.
It was – and is – a very good point.
The International Rugby Board has – quite rightly – adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards dangerous tackles.
To that end Law 10.4(j) reads: 'Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player's feet are still off the ground such that the player's head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play.
The instructions for referees are:
* The player is lifted and then forced or 'speared' into the ground (red card offence)
* THE lifted player is dropped to the ground from a height with no regard to the player's safety (red card offence).
* For ALL OTHER types of dangerous lifting tackles a yellow card or penalty may be considered sufficient.'
Now Toner certainly was not 'speared' into the ground. Nor was he dropped from a height with no regard to his safety.
The IRB's zero-tolerance stance on 'spearing' followed the unpunished assault on Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll by All Blacks pair Tana Umaga and Kevin Mealamu in the second minute of the opening Test of the 2005 tour.
O'Driscoll's shoulder was dislocated and it was five months before he was able to play again.
But having been on the pitch on Friday night, O'Driscoll would know better than anyone that the punishment meted out to Court – one of the cleanest front row forwards in the game and a man making his final Ulster appearance on home soil – was intended for an altogether different offence.
In the interests of fair play, let us now hope that is how the disciplinary panel views it as well.