Schmidt wary of the danger of suspensions due to crackdown on high tackles
‘There’s always things that concern, and injury is one and suspension is the other’
Joe Schmidt: “We’re going to have to be cleaner than clean.” Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Joe Schmidt assuredly spoke for many coaches yesterday when airing his concerns over the heightened risk of losing players to yellow or red cards, and suspensions, in light of World Rugby’s crackdown on high and dangerous tackles.
He was also armed with an interesting array of statistics to support his fears on the eve of Ireland’s second warm-up game against England, after the French lock Paul Gabrillagues incurred a six-week ban when cited for alleged foul play in France’s win over Scotland last Saturday in Nice.
“There’s always things that concern, and injury is one and suspension is the other. I think there was one red card in the last World Cup, and there were 17 citings. That’s a massive kind of disconnect between what the citing commissioners were doing and what the referees thought in real time.”
The difficulty in “trying to predict what’s going to happen and what decisions are going to be made” in the current climate was also highlighted by the sending off of All Blacks lock Scott Barrett against Australia two weeks ago.
“Given the number of other incidents in that game, you go ‘well, that’s a red, but there’s a whole lot of other things missed’. It seems very extreme that it’s zero or red.”
Regarding the Gabrillagues suspension for leading with his head into John Barclay when clearing out at a ruck, which the French lock is appealing, Schmidt said: “I’ve only seen the replays, but it looks like he gets his hands down. It doesn’t look like he’s looking to shoulder charge and it doesn’t look he’s [leading] intentionally with his head but we know that if you get it wrong, you’re in somebody else’s hands and we want control as much of it as we can.
“In the Junior World Cup that’s just gone, there were 26 red and yellow game changing cards for high tackles, and I know that World Rugby will say that we have to go after high tackles and I totally agree. But in those 26 game changing cards, there wasn’t head injury assessment required. Not one concussion.”
World Rugby analysts say there were 18 cards (14 yellow and four red) rather than the five red and 21 yellow claimed by the IRFU.
In any event, Schmidt said “we’re going to have to be cleaner than clean” to avoid potentially serious sanctions.
“World Rugby are trying to make the game safer. Is going after the high tackle the safest way to do it? I don’t know because if you’re the tackler you’re three times more likely to get injured in the tackle than the ball carrier and you’re the guy who’s being targeted,” said Schmidt of the need to protect tacklers as well as tackled players.
“It’s a hard balance to get and it’s a hard game to referee and there are so many variables and so many high-speed moments in a game.”
Noting the three concussions that occurred in the Rugby Championship, Schmidt said: “You’re always trying to safeguard your players, not just from being picked up for foul play but also from getting injured in the first place.”
“We’re trying to make sure that they can best look after themselves, and have the power of choice in that tackle and leave power of choice as late as possible so that they could stay upright and grab or they can drop low and make their move as late as possible because they are the variables that best protect the tackler.”
Schmidt welcomed World Rugby’s decision to amend Law 3 to ensure that “a match cannot restart until a player leaving the field of play for a blood injury or head injury assessment (HIA) has been temporarily replaced”.
This followed George North’s contentious try for Wales in their 13-6 win over England last Saturday from a Dan Biggar cross kick while England had yet to send on a temporary replacement for scrumhalf Willi Heinz, who had to come off the field to have a head injury assessment and were momentarily down to 13 men.
“It’s pretty irresponsible if that law change didn’t happen because in terms of player welfare, if a player thinks he’s going to leave his team with 13 men or 14 men, he’s going to try and stay on and then he’s at risk,” said Schmidt.
“But they’ve now done the sensible thing.”