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The sins of Percy

2 yellows = Red

Playing fullback for South Africa against Wales at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday, Percy Montgomery was given two yellow cards. Two yellow cards in the same match meant that he was sent off. Being sent off meant having to go to an inquiry, probably on Wednesday. We look at the sins of Percy.

Three times in the match Percy Montgomery, playing his 72nd Test match for South Africa, was penalised for foul play – at least the reason was given as foul play. Not previously in his Test career had he fallen foul of the law.

On the second occasion he was sent to the sin bin. On the third occasion he was sent off.

The second one is the most relevant, but we shall look at all three.

In all three instances the same referee and the same touch judge are involved.

1. Conrad Jantjes of South Africa is penalised at a tackle/ruck for going in at the side.

Cooper takes a quick tap kick and then passes to Shane Williams. After he has passed Montgomery puts his shoulder into Cooper.

The referee and the touch judge decide that Montgomery was guilty: "15 Green with no arms on Red 9," the touch judge reported, though clearly the referee had a clear view of what had happened.

The referee decides that just a penalty is enough.

Referee: "It was late and no arms. There's no more foul play. No more foul play. Get the message."

That happened after 28 minutes in the first half.

2. From a five-metre scrum, South Africa attack with vigour. Flyhalf Meyer Bosman kicks a high diagonal kick the right. Short Shane Williams is there. Jantjes is outside of him and Montgomery coming up on the inside. Jantjes jumps and palms the ball infield. But it does not get to Montgomery. Instead Williams darts at the ball. Montgomery grabs at him and then Williams gets the ball.

Williams has the ball and is standing up. Montgomery is standing up. He embraces Williams. Montgomery's left hand is on Williams's back, his right arm across his chest. In that close position, Montgomery pulls Williams to ground. They both fall on their sides,

The referee must have had a clear view of what happened as it was right in the open and there were few others around about. He consulted the touch judge.

Touch judge: "15 Green picked the man up – up off the ground with his legs and threw him across his hip to the ground."

Referee: "Would you say it was a dangerous tackle?"

Touch judge: "Yes, and he's already …." (It becomes in audible.)

Referee: "Two things. First one – 15's held him back and then he's grabbed him and thrown him over. We've spoken about foul play."

Montgomery then receives a yellow card and is off to the sin bin

This happens after ten minutes in the second half..

This is the one we should debate. But first let's get to the third occasion.,

3. Wales attack to the far right and then they come back left. Shane Williams speeds for the left corner. Montgomery speeds across to cut him off. He tackles Williams into touch.

Again the referee must have had a good view. Again he talks to the touch judge.

Touch judge (not all audible): "High tackle."

Referee: "What can you tell me?"

Touch judge (not all audible): "Tackle above the shoulders."

Referee: "Going for the head, is it?"

Touch judge: "Yip."

Referee: "Yellow card."

Touch judge: ""Second yellow card."

The referee then talks to Montgomery and his captain John Smit.

Referee: "High tackle, which is a yellow card. Second yellow card is …"

Let's get on with it.

First the penalty against Montgomery in 1. above was fair.

The penalty for the high tackle in 3. above was fair.

There were some minor matters of consistency. Martyn Williams tackled high and was penalised without a talking to. Schalk Burger tackled high and was talked to,.. Jean de Villiers tackled high – probably the worst one of the four – and was penalised without a talking to.

The only point worth making there is that the high tackle does not necessarily equal a yellow card.

In his commentating Jonathan Davies first said: "Great tackle – Percy Montgomery."

He then found an excuse that the tackle had started at the shoulder. John Smit – and Eddie Butler – tried to find and  excuse in that short Shane Williams was diving.

But referees have been told that a tackle above the shoulder is ipso facto a dangerous tackle. If the tackle starts at the shoulder and moves up it is still a high tackle. If the player was ducking it remains a high tackle. in both cases the penalty is correct.

That the tackle rode up or the tackled player was ducking could be mitigating circumstances in what happens by way of further sanction after the penalty.

But what exacerbates the matter in this case is that it is so near the goal-line.

There is the question of the penalty try. We shall come back to that later in the week, lest we obfuscate matters now.

We need to get to 2. above.

Let's look again at the touch judge's report:

"15 Green picked the man up – up off the ground with his legs and threw him across his hip to the ground."

In the whole process Williams' feet were off the ground only momentarily, his right foot by the matter of about 10cm.

At no stage did Montgomery grab Williams by the legs or even near his legs. His left hand was on his back, his right arm around his chest.

The throwing across the hip is all a bit dramatic.

The touch judge's evidence has holes in it. But the referee must have been able to see that.

Often in tackles players' feet will leave the ground but a referee can hardly be expected to run without a micrometer screw to see how far off the ground they are.

In the context of many spear tackles in recent matches – including incidents in which the touch judge was the referee when France played Canada, this was nowhere near antedating like a spear tackle.

Williams was not so lifted that his feet were above his head. In fact his feet were vertically down below his head. Montgomery did not stand up and thrust Williams down to ground or let him fall down to ground. Montgomery went to ground with him.

There is no point in justifying the yellow card on the grounds that it was a second act of foul play. It was not foul play at all.

If there had been no yellow card here, there would have been no red card for the high tackle later on. Montgomery would then not be going to an inquiry later this week.

If the disciplinary committee could find no reason to suspend Ma'a Nonu for his tackle when Ireland played New Zealand and no reason to cite Shane Horgan for his tackle, which was also late, on Sione Lauaki of New Zealand or Mosese Luveitasau of Fiji for his tackle on Matthew Watkins of Wales, or Frédéric Michalak for his tackle on Ed Fairhurst of Canada or other examples this weekend where the tackled player was lifted off his feet, it would be odd if they then decided that Montgomery should be suspended.

We asked the IRB's refereeing manager if any new directive had gone out about high tackles and lifting players off their feet in a tackle during the week prior to this match, and he said that nothing new had gone out.

All that went out was an aide memoir following the conference at the Lensbury Club last month. It contained the following on the mater of the dangerous tackle:

Dangerous Tackles – To be treated at the upper end of foul play scale
(red card, and work down, not the reverse)
·  High
·  No Arms
·  Spear
·  Tackle on the collar
·  Any player who puts a player in the air or caused a player to be put in the air has a responsibility to ensure that the player is brought to the ground safely
Tackles could be
·  “Late”
·  “Early”
·  “Late and Dangerous”
·  “Early and Dangerous”
Referees to judge on fact/law, not intent. Intent is for the judiciary to rule on, not the referee.

All of that is fair enough.

Imagine that the members of the disciplianry committee find no reason to suspend Montogomery. What about backing the referees?

Of course, referees need (and get) support, but it should not be at the expense of the player. The stand decision in a case such as this is often that the action taken was deemed punishment enough.

For recent discussion on the "spear tackle" click here and here.

Funny old game rugby. In Genoa there was mass fighting with hair pulling and all manner of unseemly things and not a yellow card in sight. Perhaps there will be citing later.

We shall discuss the possibility of a penalty try later in the week and also the relationship between the referee and the touch judge.

There are lots of questions which could be asked just on the matter of consistency in dealing with the dangerous tackle by the top referees of the world in top matches and the consistency of citing commissioners and disciplinary committees. Lots of questions. We asked some of them last week on the "spear tackle". There are more to ask.


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