Law discussion: The armless charge
@rugby365com law guru Paul Dobson takes an authoritative view at what was a missed opportunity by officials to live up to pre-tournament promises!
The first match, the first controversy.
The World Cup started in Tokyo on Friday when Japan played Russia. Russia was better than expected but Japan won. All seemed fine on the Far East Front. But was it?
This match was really well refereed by the man who had refereed the final of the 2015 World Cup. He had two assistants on the line, both top referees, and he had a television match official, again a man chosen for his exceptional ability.
But rugby remains a game that cannot be refereed perfectly. There is an incident worth talking about – one in 80 minutes of rugby on a Friday night in Tokyo.
After just over half an hour’s play, Russia gets the ball to scrumhalf Vasily Dorofeev who is moving to his left about a metre outside of his 22. Dorofeev kicks a grubber ahead with his right foot. After he has kicked the ball, Japan’s tall lock James Moore (5) bangs into Dorofeev who falls to the ground. Shortly afterwards he is taken from the field to undergo a head injury assessment (HIA) test. Dmitry Perov takes Dorofeev’s place but Dorofeev is later able to return to play, having passed the test.
It is Moore’s action that is suspect.
In May 2019, World Rugby sent out a framework for dealing with high tackles and shoulder charges to neck and head. The framework gave referees firm guidelines to judge impact of that kind, as the world body seeks to eradicate head injuries.
* Continue reading below the video …
The framework has a definition of a shoulder charge:
Arm of the shoulder making contact with the ball-carrier is behind the tackler’s body or tucked in ‘sling’ position at contact.
The definition may not really be a definition but rather the way of judging one – by the position of the arm.
The framework gives criteria for a red card: Shoulder charge (no arms tackle) to the head or neck of the ball carrier, and mitigation is not applied.
Moore’s left shoulder makes contact with Dorofeev’s head area. His left arm is in front of himself, in what may be regarded as the sling position. The point is that his arm is not reaching forward. Had it done so, the point of the shoulder would have moved harmlessly backwards. Instead, it was the hard point that knocked into Dorofeev, knocking him over and severe enough for the medic to insist on an HIA test.
The framework suggests three possible courses of action when there is illegal shoulder contact with the neck or head – just a penalty, a yellow card or a red card:
penalty plus yellow card
and penalty plus red card.
c. In the case of a shoulder charge to the body with no head or neck contact and with low degree of danger, the referee will penalise the offender but not issue him with a red or yellow card.
Yellow card/sending off for a stipulated period
The stipulated period in a seniors’ professional match is 10 minutes.
The yellow card will be shown the offender if one of these applies:
d. In the case of shoulder charge to the body without contact with the ball-carrier’s head or neck with low degree of danger, the referee will show the offender a yellow card, i.e. send him off the field for 10 minutes or whatever length of time applies to the match.
Red Card/Sending off for the duration of the match
c. In the case of a shoulder charge (a no arms-tackle with the point of shoulder leading) direct to the head or neck of the ball-carrier, the referee will show the offender a red card, i.e. send him off the field.
The penalty only clearly does not apply, as there was contact with the head and neck and the player was knocked to the ground.
The yellow card does not apply, because there is contact with neck and head.
The action that forms the criterion for a red card seems to be what Moore did with impunity.
The framework makes allowances for mitigating circumstances.
Mitigating factors (must be clear and obvious and can only be applied to reduce a sanction by 1 level)
* Tackler makes a definite attempt to change height in an effort to avoid ball carrier’s head
* Ball-carrier suddenly drops in height (e.g. From earlier tackle, trips/falls, dives to score)
* Tackler is unsighted prior to contact
* “Reactionary” tackle, immediate release
* 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)
None of those mitigating factors apply to the Moore-Dorofeev contact.
In fact, after Dorofeev has kicked the ball, Moore seems to increase the momentum of his contact. The contact with Dorofeev is late and also liable to be penalised.
There is in such a case the possible intervention of the citing commissioner who has 36 hours in which to decide whether to cite or not. If he decides not to cite it will mean that he does not believe that Moore’s action warranted a red card.
In this match, a red card for Japan could have been crucial, for at the time of the incident Russia were leading 7-5.