Johannesburg - The refereeing decision by Angus Gardner in the 81st minute of Saturday’s Test match between the Springboks and England has created a headache for World Rugby and once again showed up the inconsistencies of refereeing in the modern game.
While Gardner’s actions - in determining Owen Farrell had used an arm in a shoulder charge on Andre Esterhuizen - may not have changed the result if he had given a penalty or yellow card for the incident, it makes a mockery of World Rugby’s new found appetite to rid the game of dangerous tackles, according to SuperSport.com.
The law is pretty clear in this incident, and having spoken to two international referees in trying to make sense of it all, both agree that it was a clear penalty and possibly a yellow in the circumstances.
Law 9.16 of the game clearly states: “A player must not charge or knock down an opponent carrying the ball without attempting to grasp that player.”
Multiple replays of the game show that Farrell clearly used the shoulder and made little attempt to tackle and Gardner rewarded him for it.
The problem is the inconsistencies.
Two weeks ago Danny Cipriani was given a red card for a similar incident, and a four week ban for his troubles. Sonny Bill Williams received a red in the British and Irish Lions Series last year for a tackle that was high, but could easily have been compared to Farrell’s actions as well.
While World Rugby has understood that concussions are a massive part of the game and need to be curbed or face lawsuits as the NFL has seen in its ranks, it makes little sense to adopt a new approach to tackling, trial it across the world and then sit back when an incident like Farrell’s happens.
This isn’t the first time Farrell has been under the spotlight for his tackling approach and his reaction when Gardner gave the call underlined the fact that he knew he got away with the incident.
World Rugby has trialled a new application of laws that will try and get tackles below the “nipple line”. While it is commendable to try and stop high tackles, shoulder charges are just, if not more, dangerous as there is a clear intent to stop a player at all costs.
For those who believe Farrell did fine - ironically this includes Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll, a victim of a tip tackle that he still complains about more than a decade later from the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand - consider this. If Farrell was a player from one of the Pacific Island nations at Twickenham, who are known for their bone-crunching hits, what would the outcome be?
It would be hard to convince many rugby fans that this scenario would not automatically resulted in a card and a sanction, but now World Rugby have not only turned a blind eye to the incident, the citing officer has also said it wasn’t worthy of another look.
This all leaves World Rugby in a quandary. As Rassie Erasmus’ answer on Saturday night - dripping with sarcasm - notes: “If it was all legal‚ and I haven’t had a good chance to look at the replay‚ then we should start tackling like that.
“It’s obviously very effective‚ and if that’s allowed we should all execute it like that
“If it was legal we just have to latch on and do it the same way.”
Erasmus’ answer lays down a gauntlet for the game’s custodians - to come out and say if this is a legal tackle or not? It asks for clarity where previously the governing body has kept its head in the sand.
But it is unlikely World Rugby will want that to happen and the next player to use his shoulder is likely to be penalised hard by the governing body.
World Rugby now sits with a dilemma - do they sanction their referee, or do they show the double standards and continue to preach about dangerous tackles being outlawed.
Gardner got it wrong, badly at Twickenham on Saturday and will go down in history books for his error, but the greater crime will be if World Rugby continue the doublespeak and try and sweep the incident under the table.
Read the story on SuperSport