Law discussion: Scott Barrett sees red
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: @rugby365com‘s law guru Paul Dobson takes a look at the game-changing red card to All Black lock Scott Barrett.
A minutes before half-time in the Bledisloe Cup match between Australia and New Zealand in Perth, the referee saw, consulted and then showed Scott Barrett, the New Zealand lock, a red card.
Before the red card, the Wallabies led 13-12, but they were dominant force in the match, enjoying 74 percent of possession. At the final whistle the victorious Wallabies led 47-26. Regardless of the scoring, playing a match of this class while a player short is a massive blow.
Let’s look at the incident.
Ardie Savea of New Zealand is penalised for the childish act of pushing Michael Hooper’s head into the ground.
Hooper was cross and the referee calmed things down with a penalty, which the Wallaby kicked out for an attacking line-out.
They won the line-out, mauled and then bashed at the All Black defence. Hooper picks up the ball five metres from the All Black line, but is immediately stopped by Dan Coles of New Zealand.
Hooper has the ball, but is going down as Scott Barrett, the All Black lock, drives, shoulder first, into Hooper’s neck/head region.
The referee is about a metre away with a clear view of the action as Barrett charges in.
The French referee, Jérôme Garcès, immediately consults the TMO, saying: “I want to check a shoulder charge by No.4 Black.”
He then elaborates: “For me, I have a clear picture on the field. He [Barrett] never uses his arms. He just puts his shoulder on the neck and head. It is clearly dangerous. It is direct with force and so I have no option but to give a red card against No.4 Black.”
The TMO, Marius Jonker, agrees.
The referee, who is admirably calm throughout, then tells Kieran Read, the All Black captain, and Barrett his decision to show him a red card, the symbol of a sending off.
Neither Barrett nor Read react in any way, and Barrett goes off, the Wallaby kick the penalty goal and it is half-time.
Let’s look at law.
Law 9 FOUL PLAY
A player who commits foul play must either be cautioned or temporarily suspended or sent off.
11. Players must not do anything that is reckless or dangerous to others.
13. A player must not tackle an opponent early, late or dangerously. Dangerous tackling includes, but is not limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders.
16. A player must not charge or knock down an opponent carrying the ball without attempting to grasp that player.
20. Dangerous play in a ruck or maul.
b. A player must not make contact with an opponent above the line of the shoulders.
It is clear in law that what Barrett does is seriously illegal.
In addition, World Rugby, in its concern for player health, has sent instructions to referee in regard to firm action against dangerous play to the head and neck.
To many older men, this is turning it into a sissy game. The fact is that the way the game is played is much changed over the last few years and with the changes has come a greater effort of protect the head and neck.
World Rugby is rugby’s law-making body. That is its primary function. It is empowered to make laws, amend laws, clarify laws and issue guidelines.
One of its sets of guidelines is to simplify the process a referee must make with regard to head/neck contact.
Its criterion for a red card is simply: Shoulder charge (no arms tackle) to the head or neck of the ball carrier, and mitigation is not applied
It gives its mitigating factors, stating that they must be clear and obvious and can be applied only to reduce a sanction by 1 level.
a. Tackler makes a definite attempt to change height in an effort to avoid the ball-carrier’s head
b. The ball-carrier suddenly drops in height (e.g. From earlier tackle, trips/falls, dives to score)
c. The tackler is unsighted prior to contact
d. “Reactionary” tackle, immediate release
e. Head contact is indirect (starts elsewhere on the body and then slips or moves up resulting in minor contact to the ball-carrier’s head or neck)
In considering mitigating factors, the referee works downwards from a red card to the lesser sanction of a yellow card.
Of those above, a, c, d and e certainly do not apply to Barrett. In the case of b above, Hooper is losing height but Barrett adjusts his height in order to make contact with Hooper at the level at which contact is made. Barrett is not taken by surprise.
Much was made of these guidelines at World Rugby’s Under-20 Championship in June this year and subsequently. It is hard to believe that a top international player would not be aware of his responsibilities at the tackle and the clean-out.
The referee in this case was carrying out the law-makers’ instructions.
There have been other suggestions aiming to ensure that the game remains a contest of 15 vs 15, but they are not considerations that a referee is allowed to entertain.