In 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball in his arms and ran with it. And for the next 156 years forwards have been trying to work out why. - Tasker Watkins VC, LJ.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

HEC Round One - Citings & Tip-Tackles, Part II - Marty & Brits

The decisions in these two cases are now up on the ERC website.(I know Marty was in the Amlin Cup, but for shorthand in thread titles, HEC is it). You can read the David Marty decision HERE and the Schalk Brits decision HERE

And I would encourage everyone to do so, especially the Schalk Brits decision. It is a superb, categorical review of the laws and cases in the area in the "Discussion and Decision" section from page 8 of the decision onwards, including a very handy table of recent decisions on Law 10 (4) (j), the law about tip-tackles, between pages 12 and 14. Rod McKenzie is heartily to be congratulated on an exemplary piece of work; he has set out the history of the laws and memos in the area, the current state of the laws, the recent decisions, and then applied them in a very, very fair manner.

This is exactly how a judicial system should operate. The ERC have, to their credit, been at the forefront in this, and are to be congratulated; when a system starts to deliver consistent, clear, well-reasoned decisions like this, with a clear principle that can be taken from the judgement and applied on the pitch, it's a sign the system is working.

The decision, albeit long enough at 18 pages, is so immaculately clear that there really isn't much I can say about it; it speaks for itself. All I can do is encourage everyone to listen to it as it does; commentators, coaches, and players should all read it as a perfect guide to the Laws in the area.

It is noticeable between the two decisions that, as I noted, the ERC are taking a very clear line following on exactly from that set down in the RWC (the RWC decisions are cited, approved and followed in the two decision). I think it can now be stated, conclusively, that the Stephen Jones decision was, as I've said, the exception; it is so far out of kilter with the other decisions that it looks increasingly like a mistake.

The principle is now crystal-clear; if you lift a player, bring him down arse-first, or take the consequences (the discussion of the tackle technique taught in the Brits decision is particularly instructive on this front). Or, to be even simpler; don't lift in the tackle unless you KNOW you can bring him down safely. If in doubt, go low and trust the next man in to jackal. And, to repeat; when you can distill the principles from the decisions down to two one-line sentences that a coach can yell from the sidelines and that players can remember in the heat of the tackle and breakdown, that means the system is working properly.

So, in a phrase I don't write or say that often; well done, the ERC.

The only small quibble I have is this; the table refers to a written decision of the ML disciplinary system last year. Those decisions, unlike the ERC's, aren't published. Is it to much to ask now that after the ERC have gone to the trouble of putting this decision together that the general public be allowed to read those decisions as well, to see from exactly where the current rules have come? After all, as the ERC decisions show; transparency leads to consistency, which leads to the message getting across.

Monday, November 21, 2011

HEC Round Two - Citings and concussion.

After week two of the Cardiologists Association of Ireland sponsoring Ronan O'Gara, we're still waiting for the decisions from the first week to be posted.

However, given the citing and a straight red card from this weekend, for a dangerous high tackle and  a tip-tackle respectively, it looks like there's no let-up on the crack-down on safety in the tackle area.

Again, as soon as the decisions are up and available for discussion, I'll do so by updating this post.

One thing that was noticeable was in relation to concussion. Finally, a player who was clearly concussed - Peter O'Mahony of Munster getting an accidental knee to the head in a tackle at the end of another top-notch performance  - was taken off, even though he was vital to the team and had no like-for-like replacement possible (he was replaced by a hooker). It's not just my own provincial loyalties that make me glad Munster did the right thing; a player as good as O'Mahony is shaping up to be should not be risked for the sake of ten minutes extra while concussed. Nor, indeed, should any player's health; but that's another day's posting.

Update: Mike McCarthy got two weeks, Steven Shingler got four. The full decisions aren't available yet, but as soon as they are, I will go through them.

Further update: Steven Shingler is planning to appeal his sentence. He may well have a decent case for so doing.

The decision is HERE. Now, to point out the crucial thing from the off; this is not about whether or not  it was a red card offence. It was. Shingler said in his statement it was, and was asked himself at the hearing if he stood by the position that it was a fair sending off; he did. And he deserves a fair bit of credit for it.

But the key point here seems to be consistency. London Irish tried to introduce footage of the Stephen Jones tip-tackle that wasn't cited (which I dealt with HERE); they weren't allowed to, but it has no purpose at all except on the issue of consistency.

And, while the Judicial Officer, Roger Morris, largely followed the same ground as Rod McKenzie did in the excellent Schalk Brits decision (which I dealt with HERE), he took a very different view on the issue of a need for a deterrent. McKenzie, on pages 14-18 of Brits, was of the view that increasing the sentence for a deterrent purpose while setting the entry-level higher on the same basis, was effectively a double punishment and t be avoided. Morris, over pages 8 and 9, disagreed, based on the Disciplinary Regulations, and felt that the correct method was to increase the sentence as a deterrent, rather than the entry level.

Both give well-considered, well-reasoned judgements; yet they are inconsistent with each other. And though I've criticised such inconsistency in the past, it is no reflection on Roger Morris, or indeed Rod McKenzie to recognise this fact. Where there is a question of proper interpretation of an area that is the focus of many cases, as tip-tackles are at the moment, and two approaches are equally open, it is if anything the sign of a healthy and functioning system that this debate happens - but, crucially, it also requires that there is an appeal level to settle the question.

As I said, Shingler may well have a good case to make that it was the Brits decision that should be followed; but, after the appeal, we will know for certain. In essence, the ERC system has now thrown up what looks like its first test case on interpretation, while maintaining the drive for on-pitch safety (because it's still clear; this IS a red-card offence).

In its own way, that's a quiet triumph for the ERC; their judicial system works just like a real one should. That's no mean feat.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

HEC Round One - Citings & Tip-Tackles.

I love the HEC. It's probably taken a decade off my lifespan, having to deal with that many ridiculous escapes by Munster, but I do love it.

And, while I will obviously parse decisions that come out, I must give the ERC credit; at least they put the decisions up.

There were four citings from this last weekend (including the Amlin Cup). Two were from two players (Shontayne Hape and David Cox) who, to be blunt, clearly got up each others nose and started getting niggly. It happens, it always has happened, and it always will happen in a game like rugby. It doesn't really worry anyone.

However, two were for tip-tackles; Schalk Brits of Saracens and David Marty of Perpignan. They both pleaded guilty, and have both just been suspended for those offences - Brits for three weeks, Marty for four.

The full decisions aren't out yet, and I will go through them as and when they do come out. However, I think it can now be said that the failure to cite Stephen Jones' tip-tackle on Tommy Bowe was the exception, not the rule. The crackdown that was on in the RWC is clearly still on in the HEC and Amlin Cup; and players would be well-advised to take that on board for this coming weekend.

Update; and, no sooner said than London Irish centre Steven Shingler got sent off by Jerome Garc├ęs in the game against Cardiff Blues on the Friday.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

IRB Concussion Training - Where Is It?

Back in May, when the IRB introduced the new concussion regulations, it promised that training would be rolled out.

Specifically, it said in its press release, that "the supporting education programme through the IRB and Member Unions will be rolled out this year." And the regulations themselves said: 

It is recommended that coaches, team managers, administrators, teachers, parents, Players, Match Officials and Healthcare Professionals associated with Rugby teams educate themselves in the use of Pocket SCAT 2 using the IRB online training programme available through planned for release in Autumn 2011. [Emphasis added]

That was on June the 2nd. As I write this, it's November the 10th; give or take five and half months later. Autumn's over. It's winter in the Northern Hemisphere now.

There's been a lot of water under the bridge since then, most of it covered here. There have been the Berrick Barnes incidents, and Benson Stanley having to take an indefinite break from the game; the Will Genia incidents in the 3N; and Morgan Parra in the final of the RWC itself. Concussion, so far from going away, has kept itself in the light, even while tip-tackles have been doing their best to hog lead billing.

So, one would have thought that we'd have had the promised training by now; all the more so as the NZRU, the leaders in this, have training online, and are - and I state this from personal experience - wonderfully supportive in the way they allow the use of their materials of anyone trying to make the game safer worldwide. The training could, probably should, have been available straight away on that model.

And yet, we have nothing from the IRB. Some unions do it right - the 3N unions, and the RFU. Some don't seem to bother at all - and in this category, I'm sorry to say, belongs the IRFU. And between them, and the IRB, there are large areas of the game where there has been no training at all in the use of the concussion management protocols that are meant to protect the players in those areas.

This is a rule introduced into the game for player safety. Players have a right to expect that referees and other officials in the game will enforce those rules; and if they aren't then liability for any injuries arising from that failure becomes a very live issue (Vowles v. Evans, WRU & Ors).

Yet, six months after this rule for player safety was introduced, there is still nothing being done to make sure it's enforced, or that those tasked with enforcing it have even a notion what it involves. It's like changing the engage process in scrums to make them safer, not telling referees what the changes are or how to apply them, leaving them to get on with it, and somehow expecting that things will magically work out fine. And that, by the way, assumes referees are even told about the existence or requirement to apply the concussion regulations at all; if the referees aren't being told about, or to follow, the regulations then the union that fails to tell them is definitely smack-bang in the lawyers' crosshairs.

Back in May, the head of the IRB, Bernard Laplasset, said, "The safety and welfare of players is of paramount concern to the IRB and its Member Unions. At the inaugural IRB Medical Conference we identified concussion as a key priority for the Game."

So, would it really be too much to ask for that they would act on that fine sentiment, and produce the training to allow officials to keep players safe?

Update; it's now up - but you have to log in to look at it! I'll deal with it in THIS post.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stephen Jones Tip-Tackle.

Stephen Jones of the Scarlets - the man once immortally described by Welsh fans as running like a robot monkey carrying a fridge - has, consistently, been one of the best NH outhalves around for the best part of a decade.

Which is all the more of a pity that he was in trouble for a tip-tackle on Tommy Bowe of the Ospreys in the West Wales derby in last weekend's RaboDirect Pro12.

You can see footage of the tackle in gifs of it HERE and HERE (with thanks to Gwlad); and stills of it HERE and HERE (again with thanks to Gwlad).

Jones was yellow-carded.

Now, following the Tipuric case, and the others at the RWC including Jones' own national captain, Sam Warburton, you'd expect that he'd have been before a citing committee. I've dealt with the background, and those judgements, HERE and HERE.

Except - he wasn't cited.

So, where we thought, finally, we had some certainty creeping in - that a tip-tackle where there was not an effort to bring the tackled player safely to ground was a red card - we now have near-complete uncertainty. And, let it be noted, complete inconsistency even within the RaboDirect Pro12 disciplinary system.

No matter whether this case, or the six others it contradicts, is the exception, this is not good enough. A system requires that it be systematic; that it be consistent, not arbitrary. And when it is this uncertain, it is once again edging so close to being arbitary as to invite action being take.

This issue won't go away until it is properly addressed. The sooner that is done, the better for the game.

Monday, November 7, 2011

50 Up.

A quick aside here before getting back into the swing of things.

This is the 50th post I've put up on this blog since starting, a bit over one a week. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who's read, and commented on, the posts; I'm pleasantly surprised at the level of interest on some areas.

To some extent, I wish there weren't so much interest, because that means there's an awful lot of interaction between a game and the law. That said, I'm glad I've been able to help highlight some issues, and that some of them are coming to the fore. Particularly, I notice I've been returning again and again to certain topics - liability for players' irresponsible use of social media; inconsistency in discipline; dangerous tackles; and improper management of concussion.

All of which are well worth pointing out; and all of which the game would be better off without. As I hope has become clear, I deeply love this game, and I deeply want it to be better; I know it can be better; and I know there's no reason at all for these problems not to be sorted out when all it really takes is proper efforts by those responsible for the game to deal with these problems.

It would be lovely if people would force me to go out and look for something new; that would mean the problems were being sorted out. Alas, experience is teaching me that's not all that likely.

Because, no sooner said, that the next three posts are going to be about Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu at it again on Twitter; Stephen Jones' yellow card for a tackle on Tommy Bowe in the West Wales derby; the lack of anything approaching training on concussion management in Ireland and elsewhere; and, just for luck,  a new case on liability for the condition of rugby pitches.

More to follow.