Playing The Charge-Down Lottery
You may or may not get red.
“A player must not intentionally charge or obstruct an opponent who has just kicked the ball.”
This is World Rugby’s ruling on making contact with a kicker while trying to charge down the ball. At the time of writing no further elaboration on that ruling could be found. We would hope that the referees would have received more direction than this when it comes to officiating this area but, if recent examples are reviewed then they may not have.
Go back to the summer of 2016 when Ireland are in South Africa with the promise of a first win on South African soil very much the target. In the 23rd minute that dream hit a major stumbling block as CJ Stander received a red card. We all cried foul. Yes Lambie sustained a hefty blow but there was no way it was intentional. The replay clearly showed that Stander had left the ground before the ball was kicked. Reckless? Yes. Penalty? Well not very clear on the above definition but by unspoken agreement, yes. Red card? Surely not. A yellow would have been thought as harsh but fair.
A few weeks ago, Charles Piutau received a hefty blow from Steve Crosbie during Ulster v Connacht. Replays again show Crosbie being in the air before Piutau kicked but, as Stander had turned in the air and made contact with his hip, so too did Crosbie turn and his shoulder made contact. The incident was reviewed by the referee at the time but received no punishment. Afterwards, Ulster fans took to social media to cry foul and Connacht fans jumped to defend their man. As a Connacht fan, I was defending Crosbie citing that there was no intention and that he was already in the air and therefore committed. With no clear red line between right and wrong the argument reached no definitive conclusion.
A penalty at the very least. pic.twitter.com/997cjeV3pv
— RugbyLAD (@RugbyLAD7) October 6, 2017
On Friday night, the argument reared its head once more with the sending off of Andrew Conway during Connacht v. Munster. Due to work commitments I had to settle for radio commentary. A lot was made of the involvement of Conway’s elbow by the radio commentary and, indeed, by Nigel Owens.
In light of this I had a mental picture of a flailing elbow making intentional contact and so thought the red was justified. When I watched the match in hindsight I saw that my mental picture was much different than reality. Again, the argument can be made that Conway was just about in the air, there was no intention and Conway’s elbow was held tight to the body rather than flailing. In fact, O’Mahony showed more intention than Conway. It was reckless, yes. It was mistimed, just about. It was a penalty, yes. But a red was a very harsh decision for Munster and Conway.
There are strong similarities in all three incidents but two were reds and one was nothing. I can guarantee that a high proportion of you reading this will disagree with my assessment of these incidents and, of course, you are right to. Until a clear distinction is made between what qualifies for a penalty, yellow and red cards then disagreements will continue. Until then players are taking a massive chance every time they leave the ground to charge down a kick.