As the rugby world settles down once again to the bump and grind of everyday rugby, Seán Cummins examines one of the World Cup’s more enduring legacies.
The 15th of October 2011 marked a historic date for Welsh rugby with their second ever appearance at the world cup semi-final stages. Wales as an outfit displayed great quality and passion to advance to the semi-final stages with a balance of youth and experience, at the forefront of the Welsh squad was Sam Warburton the 23 year old Cardiff born flanker known as ‘captain fantastic’ by his welsh teammates. Warburton in the 18th minute of the opening half received a red card for what appeared to be a dangerous spear tackle on Vincent Clerc. Irish referee Alain Rolland immediately proceeded to send off Warburton much to the dismay of his Welsh teammates and the red nation of followers in Eden Park and the Millenium Stadium who immediately cried wolf. Reports began to circulate that Rolland had made a biased judgement due to his dual nationality; Rolland, a former Irish rugby international was born to a French father and speaks fluent French, was surrounded by the red mist of a nation’s disappointment by possibly forcing Wales out of a final spot against New Zealand by up-holding the letter of the law.
The British and Irish Lion’s tour of 2005 and particularly the spear tackle on Brian O’Driscoll sent tremors around the rugby world. Umaga and Mealamu, the then New Zealand captain, were never cited for a dangerous spear tackle on O’Driscoll which forced a five month absence for one of the world’s best players. Since June 28th 2005 the International Rugby Board has aimed to eliminate dangerous spear tackles in the interest of player welfare.
The International Rugby Board has now set standards to eliminate such dangerous occurrences from happening in the modern game. Prior to this year’s world cup all match day referees were given strict instructions to cut out foul play in the interest of player safety and well-being. It is now a wide understanding throughout the game that if a player is dropped from a height to the ground that a red card would be produced.
However this was not the case for French international Fabrice Estebanez in their shock defeat to Tonga. Estebanez, who carried out a dangerous tackle on Tongan replacement Joseph Tuineau, escaped with a yellow card. Similarly the Tongan Sukanaialu Hafanga was also yellow carded for a tip tackle at the hands of Australian referee Steve Walsh, both players received match bans of three weeks and five weeks respectively.
The IRB referees now follow a strict rule when a dangerous incident is carried out, the referee must begin at a red card and work backwards depending on the incident. An IRB spokesperson explains the strict rules: ‘Regular directives have been issued in recent years reinforcing the IRB’s zero tolerance stance regarding dangerous tackles and promotion of player welfare’.
Is the red mist justified? Sam Warburton does have the right to be annoyed considering the fact that both Hafanga and Estebanez only received bookings for similar tackles and returned to the field of play after their sinbinings. The world cup final could have been a totally different affair if the Welsh inspirational captain had returned to the field. An uninspired French team struggled to slay the Welsh dragon and defeated Wales by the minimum.
Warburton also has to understand the consequences which such a tackle could have caused. Throughout the world cup the refereeing was excellent. The new refereeing standards have reduced the incidents of dangerous tackles. Warburton’s tackle sparked discussion around the world, every club, player and manager has been interested in the consequences of dangerous tackles in rugby and the hand dealt to Warburton has forced the world of rugby to sit up and pay attention.