Was James Lowe fortunate to avoid seeing red?

The Offload: Pondering the strange possibility of legal and dangerous head contact, Sbu Nkosi’s wellbeing, Chay Mullin’s non-appearance and more

For all the drama of Leinster’s come-from-behind victory over Ulster on Saturday night, few moments sparked as much fan debate as James Lowe’s collision with John Cooney.

In the 45th minute, with Leinster staring into a 10-22 deficit, Lowe braced for a Cooney tackle, appearing to make contact with the scrumhalf’s chin in the process.

Referee Christophe Ridley determined no foul play had occurred. Cooney was seriously injured after the contact and was withdrawn.

World Rugby’s Law 9.11 deals with an attacker leading into contact dangerously with the arm: “Players must not do anything that is reckless or dangerous to others including leading with the elbow or forearm ...”


The wording here is vague as to what constitutes reckless or dangerous. The best explanation comes from renowned English referee Wayne Barnes, who posted on his YouTube channel a helpful video on this very topic.

The key issue is whether the ball carrier – in this case Lowe – separates his arm away from his body before making contact with the defender. If Lowe’s forearm is close to his body, any collision is deemed accidental and play carries on. Pushing after initial contact is also legal.

If the arm separates from the body before the first contact, then foul play has occurred.

Ridley explained his decision on the Lowe incident thus: “That arm is close to the body and then pushing away, so no foul play.”

Under that interpretation, the decision to not penalise Lowe is correct, even with Cooney’s injury, something that raises the strange possibility of legal, dangerous head contact.

Regardless of the potentially flawed law, the main point of contention is the positioning of Lowe’s leading arm. Some slow-motion footage suggests that he does slightly lift his arm from his body before the collision, contrary to Ridley’s assertion. Given the contact was with Cooney’s head, the card almost certainly would have been red if foul play was identified.

We are not certain of the angles Ridley was shown during a brief break in play, but despite recent frustrations at lengthy TMO interventions in the game, this looked to be an incident that warranted further examination than it received.

Worries for Nkosi

Concerns for the wellbeing of Springboks winger Sbu Nkosi have emerged after his club, the Blue Bulls, opened a missing persons case with South African police.

Nkosi has not been in contact his club for over three weeks, with the Bulls revealing that the last contact anyone from their organisation had with him was on Friday, November 11th.

A statement from the Pretoria-based franchise read: “After numerous failed attempts, which include but are not limited to phone calls, texts messages, calls to relatives, partner and close friends as well as four house visits to his known place of residence, the company took the decision to open a missing person case with the Brooklyn Police Station (which was subsequently transferred to Sunnyside Police Station), in Pretoria on Thursday, 17th November 2022.

“This resulted from the grave worry and concern of everyone at Loftus as well as the need for the expert assistance of the South African police services.”

The 26-year-old has scored nine tries in 16 Tests for the Springboks. He has a World Cup winner’s medal, having been a member of the successful 2019 squad at the tournament in Japan. He last played for the Bulls on October 30th but was forced off with a rib injury.

Nkosi was initially named in the Springboks’ squad for the November internationals but was later ruled out by the same rib issue.

The boy temporarily not in green

It was an interesting weekend for international eligibility law hawks, given the passport issue that ruled Chay Mullins out of the Ireland squad that finished as runner’s up at the Dubai Sevens.

English-born Mullins does not yet have an Irish passport, the former Bristol Bears back qualifying to play in green through family on his father’s side.

However, that was not an issue last season when he was able, nonetheless, to line out as part of the Ireland U20 Grand Slam-winning outfit, not to mention the Sevens squad that won a bronze medal at this year’s World Cup.

Come the weekend in Dubai, though, Mullins’ lack of passport turned into an issue; after initially being named in Ireland’s squad, the now Connacht wing was told he could not play.

The reason? This year’s World Series is now a qualification event for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Passport rules for Olympic events are different – you must have a passport from the country you represent in order to participate, something which is not the case in international rugby.

Mullins was still able to travel to the UAE and train with Ireland’s invitational side that shadowed the main squad. His passport issue is expected to be rectified in time for next weekend’s World Series leg in Cape Town.

By the Numbers: 2

Tries scored by former Ireland international Lindsay Peat as Railway Union beat Old Belvedere 34-19 in the AIL semi-final on Saturday. Railway overturned a 19-5 deficit as Peat notched two of their five tries to keep their title defence alive. Blackrock await in next Friday’s final.

Word of Mouth

“How a rugby club with the history of Wasps has been able to sleepwalk into this situation, I will never be able to understand or forgive how it has come to this.” Speaking to The Telegraph last week, England lock Joe Launchbury didn’t hide his anger at the demise of his former employers Wasps.

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist