A World Rugby representative appeared in the press room in Twickenham a few weeks ago, just before the England v Ireland game, and was promptly greeted by a mini-chorus: “The welfare of the players is paramount to our game! ”
It was a light-hearted moment that echoes the World Rugby mantra, which is sure to be channeled into your phone while you’re on hold at the switchboard. A light-hearted moment, that is, in a deadly serious pursuit.
That was March 12th. The fortnight that followed was a slalom of attacks on player welfare, which came in different shapes and sizes and at different speeds.
The day after the Twickenham Test, Cardiff was in Johannesburg to take on the Emirates Lions in the URC. A difficult prospect in midsummer on the Highveld, it was made even more difficult by Aled Summerhill’s loss of utility in a collision that left him cold.
The first time we heard the phrase “he slept before he hit the ground” was in an interview with John Fogarty, now Ireland’s Scrum trainer, about his forced retirement due to concussion.
He ended that conversation with the line, “I’m sure there have been others before me that we just don’t know about. And more will follow. This won’t go away. At least not quietly.”
That was in November 2010. Some 12 years later, the genius at the helm of URC’s Twitter account thought it would be a good idea to add a few “zzzz” to footage of Summerhill entering Nod Land, before hitting the deck achieved. It was hard to believe, and URC came out with their hands up.
Less than a week later, it had to change beds to accommodate another shocker – dropping Munster back rower Alex Kendellen over the shoulder of former springbok Bismarck du Plessis.
It only lacked venom because Du Plessis couldn’t care what happened to his victim when he let it out the back. It was like emptying a garbage bag.
The third contender for this podium came from last weekend’s Australian super rugby between The Force and The Brumbies.
Force winger Toni Pulu was cornered by a high shot from Brumbie’s full-back Tom Banks, who started his approach upright and never deviated.
He was like an airplane skipping the runway, ignoring the landing gear and plowing into the terminal building.
After some back and forth between the referee team and TMO, a penalty attempt ended with a red card for Banks, who was already off the field with a broken bone due to the force of the impact at the time of the verdict.
Lo and behold, the same decision was later overturned due to extenuating circumstances: the first contact was shoulder to shoulder, there was an attempt by Banks to wrap the tackle and there was a late change of direction from Pulu.
There are a couple of issues here: First, World Rugby needs to decide that shoulder to shoulder is okay for songs but not as a tackle guideline, and then go after players who ignore the requirement to lower their tackle height, to avoid head collisions – Tom Daly from Connacht is the latest offender.
Second, they must abandon the idea of disciplinary bodies consisting of a one-man (or woman) band.
For example, the decision to classify Du Plessis’ offense as low-range was mind-boggling. You have wondered how this goal was achieved. Then they discovered that only one pilot was flying the plane, so no discussion.
You might consider this a reasonable compromise if the defendant is not contesting the matter, so it’s all about the verdict. Under these circumstances, why bother with three on the field when the player comes into play with his hands raised? Because finding the right entry point is a major criterion for fairness.
In this case – “a player may not lift an opponent off the ground and drop or drive that player so that his head and/or torso touches the ground” – the low entry point is six weeks; The middle range is 10 weeks and the high range is 14.
So, low end with a few weeks off for prior good behavior, pleasant demeanor and a tip of the cap sir and you’ll be back before anyone misses you. Middle class and suddenly you’re a liability.
Apparently solo flight was first given clearance to take off in Super Rugby and URC says World Rugby has no problem with its use. Interestingly, neither Six Nations nor EPCR went for it.
Of course, it’s easier to call a one-person gig than a three-person panel, and certainly more cost-effective—even in Zoom times—but the club has the option to choose the latter from the start.
However, if they immediately accept their guilt and then agree to the less cumbersome one-person disciplinary process, it diverts the spotlight from the crime and their willingness to solve it all. Not quite what is required, is it?
And not if your goal is to make the game safer. If player welfare is your mantra, you need to back it up by every means of trading.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/player-welfare-more-of-an-issue-than-ever-after-recent-incidents-41503522.html Brendan Fanning: “Player welfare is more of an issue than ever after the recent incidents”