Given the recent scrutiny of the tip or spear tackle, I found this very good piece by Rugby 365’s Paul Dobson who discusses the offence at length.
Vuvuzelas were the flavour of the soccer World Cup recently. Tip tackles are the flavour of the 2010 Tri-Nations. There were people who found the vuvuzelas unpleasant – innocent but unpleasant. There are people who find the tip tackle unacceptable – unacceptable and illegal.
So far in three Tri-Nations matches there have been three tip tackles – one was not seen by the match officials, two were. The two who were seen were sent to the sin bin. All three were cited and suspended.
The three were Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie and Quade Cooper – two of whom are South Africans and one an Australian. De Villiers was the one not seen.
The suspensions were:
Jean de Villiers – two weeks
Jaque Fourie – four weeks
Quade Cooper – two weeks
Does this make the tip tackle a common event or an increasing problem? Not really. In 92 Super 14 matches this year there were seven cases.
Let’s look at the tip tackle and the actions taken against the Tri-Nations three.
The tip tackle forms part of Law 10 which deals with foul play. It is not called a tip tackle; that is just a bit of convenient shorthand but the law describes it.
Law 10.4 (j): 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 first is dangerous play.
Sanction: Penalty kick
There are four elements – grip, lift, turn and either drop or drive downwards.
De Villiers lifted Rene Ranger of New Zealand into the air in such away that his feet and legs were above horizontal and his head below horizontal so that his head and shoulders made contact with the ground first. It is similarly true of Fourie’s tackle on Richard Brown and Cooper’s tackle on Morné Steyn.
The IRB has issued instructions to match officials about the tip tackle and said that is to be “treated at the upper end of foul play scale (red card, and work down, not the reverse”. It goes on to say: “Any player who puts a player in the air or caused a player to be put in the air has a responsibility to ensure that the player is brought to the ground safely.”
In none of the three cases in this year’s Tri-Nations was the ‘victim’ brought safely to ground.
The tip tackle is a case of prima facie foul play – as is the high tackle and the tackle in the air. None of these was regarded as dangerous 20 years ago but they are clearly needlessly dangerous forms of tackling.
The tackle has happened. What then?
The referee and his assistants react to what they see. They do not have replays. Their decisions must be made on the moment of the action. In the case of De Villiers the action was not seen; in the cases of Fourie and Cooper their actions were seen.
The action taken by the referee and his assistants is up to them. The law does not prescribe. It is not written down that every punch is a red card; that every air tackle is a yellow card; every high tackle is a yellow card; every tip tackle is a red card. The law does not say that, and it is wise that it is not said as there are obviously varying degrees of violence in each case. In the end the initial sanction against the player is up to referee’s judgement.
In practice the on-field red card has become rare at the top level. Wayne Barnes red-carded Jamie Heaslip of Ireland (in June) but that is rare. In 92 Super 14 matches this year there was not one red card. The yellow card seems the top sanction – a safe one in a sense, leaving further action to the citing commissioner.
Of the seven tip tackles in the Super 14 this year, one was not seen but cited, five were yellow-carded and one just penalised.
SANZAR, the body which runs the Tri-Nations and the Super 14, has three citing commissioners – Scott Howland in Australia, Steve Hinds in New Zealand and Freek Burger in South Africa. All three are on the International Rugby Board’s panel of citing commissioners – and there are also men appointed to monitor/audit the citings.
In Tri-Nations matches remote citing is done, always by an independent citing commissioner. Scott Newland was the citing commissioner for the two Tests between South Africa and New Zealand; Steve Hinds was the citing commissioner when South Africa played in Brisbane and Freek Burger will be the citing commissioner for the three Tests between New Zealand and Australia, starting this week in Melbourne.
The citing commissioners discuss the matter but the decision in the Tri-Nations will rest with the independent commissioner.
On Saturday Freek Burger will be in Cape Town, not Melbourne. He will watch the match, he will discuss the match and, if necessary, he will ask Fox Sports to send him clips, and then he will make a decision. Clearly a citing commissioner has the time, calm and resources to make a decision more easily than a referee can.
The criterion for citing is if the action warranted a red card or not, in other words the equivalent of a sending off. If the referee has seen the incident and penalised and even yellow-carded it does not preclude a citing, which is tantamount to saying that it should have been a red card. That is the case of Jaque Fourie and Quade Cooper.
In the Super 14 it was also the case with Gerhard van den Heever and Sione Lauaki who were yellow-carded and cited. Some were yellow-carded were not cited – Andrew Shaw, Ma’a Nonu and Brando Va’aulu. Richie McCaw was penalised but neither yellow-carded nor cited.
When the citing is done, the citing commissioner hands over what he believes is a case to the judicial officer. He hears the inquiry and if he decides on guilt, he hands down the suspension.
The IRB has a recommended tariff of suspensions depending on gravity:
Lower end: Three weeks
Mid range: Six weeks
Top end: 10+ weeks
Maximum: 52 weeks
De Villiers and Cooper had good disciplinary records and so their two-week suspension is even lower than the lowest IRB recommendation. Fourie was yellow-carded in the 2009 Tri-Nations. That was taken into account and he was suspended for four weeks, two weeks below the mid range recommended.
In the Super 14, Dwayne Sweeney (pictured, above) was suspended for three weeks, Lauaki for two and Van den Heever for two.
The suspension is for weeks, not matches.
The player or his team on his behalf may appeal against the decision or the sentence within 48 hours.
In Fourie’s case in 2009, the original suspension was four weeks. On appeal it was reduced to two weeks.
In 2010 there will be no South African appeal against his sentence. Australia will appeal against Cooper’s two week suspension as being too severe because he will miss two Tests while De Villiers and Fourie will miss one each. The counter-argument is that the suspension is for weeks, not matches, and it would be better if players were not in that position in the first place.
The judicial officer who handed down the original suspension is not a part of the appeal hearing which is done by a committee of three, one from each country who do it by conference call.