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Owen Doyle: Another weekend of dangerous hits, does anybody really care?

Decision not to penalise Andrew Warwick’s head-on-head contact with Manu Tuilagi is confusing

When will it all end, and does anybody really care? Round one of the weirdly formatted Champions Cup, and the dangerous hits continued over the weekend.

In Sale’s demolition of a hapless Ulster French referee Mathieu Raynal decided that Andrew Warwick’s head-on-head contact with Sale’s Manu Tuilagi was, in fact, not a red card, not a yellow, and not even a penalty. It was all, apparently, okay, so let’s play on. Heck.

The facts: Tuilagi was running in open space, the Ulsterman had him very clearly in his sights from a long way off and there was not a hint of a change of direction or a dip by the Sale player. Warwick therefore had buckets of time to bend into the tackle, but chose not to do so – stopping the offload was the priority.

The referee then rationalised the whole incident, stating that Warwick was passive and that he was in a position to make a normal tackle, which he certainly did not do, so how on earth that came into the mix, beats me.


It was yet another joltingly hard head-on-head contact and Tuilagi was taken off while Warwick remained. The queue to join is growing.

Meanwhile, in Durban, another French referee Tual Trainini was, correctly, sending off Shark’s Tshego Nché (more commonly known as Ox) in their win against Harlequins. Yet another needless head-on-head clash, it sure goes on, and on. The Shark’s disagreement with the decision shows again the unhealthy divisions which exist on foul play.

London Irish (or rather London-Worldwide as one wit declared, the coach and outhalf being the only people now connected to this island) played Montpellier in the Challenge Cup on Friday evening. Irish’s multi-capped Argentinian hooker, Agustin Creevy, mixed the sublime with the dangerous. First, a wonderful offload to Lucio Cinti for a great try. But soon enough he was leaving the field as Italian referee, Andrea Piardi, showed him red for a shoulder to the head of Anthony Bouthier. It was his second red this calendar year and it will be interesting to see what suspension awaits.

It was pretty similar to the recent Cian Healy dismissal and it may have the judicial panel scratching their heads. No doubt Creevy’s advocates will produce video clips of the Healy incident, that red being overruled. The written reasons of that judgment will also be presented and the panel might well find themselves in a bind. Bouthier’s dip and/or change of direction was, maybe, a tad more obvious than in the case of the Leinster-man, but it still merited a red card.

What the panel need to do, of course, is to hold firm, even if their decision is totally contrary to what happened last week. It would, of course, be appropriately informative if World Rugby overruled, or even appealed, any judicial decision which is clearly incorrect.

World Rugby have over-complicated matters and have got their underwear in a complete twist with protocols and phrases like “passive” or “offensive” tackle, and “absorbing” the collision. Whereas all that needs to be decided is the level of danger by the guilty player, the colour of the card then following automatically.

Munster v Toulouse was a fair old cracker despite the fog, and English referee Christophe Ridley had a very good match, despite deciding that an in-the-air take-out of Munster’s Mike Haley didn’t need a yellow card. Calm, not whistle happy, he let the players play, communicating concisely and only when necessary. While a quiet referee is, these days, something of a perfect oxymoron, that is what we got. Others, take note, there’s a lot to be learned from this performance.

It will have been galling for Munster that Antoine Dupont put in a man of the match performance when he should really have been serving out his recent red card suspension, which Toulouse had managed to reduce to a paltry two weeks, enabling him to pick up the award.

Racing 92 currently sit second in that Top 14 table, and the Brennus Trophy is obviously high on their agenda. Whatever the reasons for it, and a terrific Leinster display was undoubtedly one of them, they received an almighty home-tie thumping, and did not seem overly concerned.

When referee Luke Pearce set off for the old port town of Le Havre, you can bet he’d have been planning for a tasty, feisty encounter. As events unfolded, Pearce was left with plenty of time to practise his French which, rugby-wise, was not too bad. But he’s still working out what is the correct translation for “penalty only, mate” – suggestions to Twickenham, please.