Keep 15 Players On The Field And You Are Halfway To Winning the 2019 RWC

Seeing red.

The line between a hard-hitting tackle and red card offence is so blurred at the moment that it wouldn’t be out of the realms of possibility to say that it may decide who wins the World Cup.

So far the 2019 showpiece has seen a record seven red cards along with 26 yellows and there’s every chance that the controversy of high tackling will make its way into the knockout phase of the competition, although the quarter-finals managed to avoid any issue in that regard as Sebastien Vahaamahina was the only player sent off and that wasn’t due to a high tackle offence.

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In theory, no one can legitimately argue against why the rule was put in place, which was to solely stop high hits on players above the shoulders. Sickening blows to the head can have serious ramifications for players not just on the day but also in later life.

By and large, you would have to say that world rugby as a whole supports the idea but implementing it fairly is proving to be harder than initially expected. Since Bundee Aki’s World Cup came to an end after a three-match ban there has been a lot of talk about how tacklers could possibly be unfairly cited.

The problem we are encountering is how dipped a player’s legs are before being tackled which is the only mitigating factor that can realistically save the offender from receiving his marching orders. The help of the TMO goes a long way in getting to the right decision but then again, a human being is tasked with interpreting what the replays indicate and we all know how partial humans are to making mistakes.

Given how controversial this ruling is it isn’t a surprise to see ex-pros and coaches wade into the debate. They often voice their displeasure depending on whether the team they played for or have coached has been directly affected by the new rule. Naturally, this all means that there is a lot of noise around high tackling at the moment with some of the opinions less thought through than others.

England back Elliot Daly, for instance, said that it ‘hasn’t changed that much’ in terms of how they are trying to tackle and yes, to a certain degree, that is true provided that no one has ever been dead set on removing a player’s head from their shoulders but Daly’s opinion doesn’t allow for the fact that it has actually changed everything. Red cards weren’t as forthcoming in previous times when someone mistimed a high tackle and that is where this argument starts and ends.

You could get away with more because there was room to decide where there was any malice in the tackle whereas now it is purely a case of how high and if so, enjoy an early shower. When you have a rule that is as black and white as this one you are not allowing for genuine mistakes which are part and parcel of a contact sport and that has the potential to knock out the best teams in the World Cup.

Even if the Rugby World Cup odds right now have the favourites in order with the All Blacks being followed by the Springboks and so on, they don’t make room for what could happen should one of the big boys have a player sent off.

Red cards in matches between the big nations almost always mean an inevitable loss and there is no reason why the refs should now all of a sudden begin favouring an even contest over the rule of law.

With that said, it’s hard to imagine that coaches will be instructing their players not to tackle with force during the knockouts and why should they do so? There is a World Cup to be won after all but a sure way of giving yourself the best chance to do so is by keeping all 15 men on the park.