Rugby: Heads, we all lose - high tackles a horrible look for game

Author
Patrick McKendry,
Section
Rugby,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 12 June 2018, 6:52AM
Match referee hands Paul Gabrillagues of France a yellow card during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France. (Photo / Photosport.co.nz)
Match referee hands Paul Gabrillagues of France a yellow card during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France. (Photo / Photosport.co.nz)

Illegal or not, making a direct contact to an opposition players' head is not a good look for rugby, or any non-combat sport, so it was reassuring to hear two All Blacks' forwards, including Owen Franks, speak today about the onus being firmly on the tackler to get it right.

The sight of 128kg prop Ofa Tuungafasi's right shoulder driving into Remy Grosso's face at Eden Park was bad enough, but to hear that the France wing was forced to leave the field with a double fracture of the skull should be a serious concern for World Rugby, who have stated time and again that player welfare is their number one priority.

It was an accident on Tuungafasi's part, and he has not been officially sanctioned, but it's not an isolated one in terms of the game.

A week before, Highlanders loose forward Liam Squire made contact with Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara's head in a ruck cleanout during the Super Rugby match in Dunedin, an accident for which Squire, an All Black teammate of Perenara's, was cited and cleared of any wrongdoing.

The contact from Squire was similar to Tuungafasi's – it was flush, and Perenara was lucky to emerge relatively unscathed.

These accidental clashes happen in the professional game, which is becoming increasingly dynamic and high-impact, but that doesn't make them any easier to watch and it will serve to put some players, and parents of youngsters, off the sport.

It has to be taken seriously, and thankfully the All Blacks appear to be. Tuungafasi, as gentle a soul as you could meet off the pitch, sent a note of apology to Grosso afterwards and his fellow front-rower Franks, a man who recently served a two-match ban for making contact with Blues hooker James Parsons' head, which caused a concussion, said players have to be more careful.

"You have to take time, for example, to sight a good target at a ruck and be aware of how you're using your body," Franks said. "For example, against the Blues I didn't even know that had happened until I saw it on the big screen because you're dealing with split-second decisions.

"It's the importance of getting the skillset right and taking a little bit more time to really get your body angle right."

The high tackle is an obvious risk, but the ruck "cleanout", a euphemistic term for the way players from an attacking team drive (or sometimes dive) into a breakdown to get rid of the opposition is another, and frankly it's a wonder more head injuries aren't received here.

A problem with the cleanout is the vulnerability of players trying to make turnovers who have their eyes down on the ball and who don't see the opposition coming shoulders or heads first.

All Blacks loose forward Luke Whitelock said his side knew the consequences of getting tackles wrong. And that could apply equally to the tackler and the player on the receiving end.

"It's pretty evident the way things are being reffed; if you get that part wrong you can see yourself sitting on the sideline," Whitelock said. "It's something we have to train and get right as individuals, to get our techniques right.

"Obviously when you say the target changes - we have to change the way we try to make that tackle.

"Every time is different – you're always trying to adjust to what's in front of you. People carry the ball differently and it's your responsibility I think as the tackler [to get it right].

"You can't afford to get it wrong because it has quite a big consequence, obviously."

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