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Farewell to the fair contest

Having watched most, if not all of the Super Rugby matches thus far, I have come to the conclusion that referees are making a concerted effort to protect a player receiving a high ball, regardless of whether it's a "fair contest" or not.

I have absolutely no problem with players being protected in potentially dangerous situations but there has to be some clarification as to what is deemed as "intentionally playing the man in the air" and what is merely a fair contest for possession.

DISCLAIMER – In no way am I claiming to be a law guru, especially when it comes to implementing the laws of the game. That I leave to the legend that is Paul Dobson.

What I have noticed is that if a player decides to defy the laws of gravity and hang mid-air, anything and anyone that makes contact with said player will be given sent to the sin bin for dangerous play.

A prime example of this happened in the match between the Chiefs and Crusaders at the weekend. A high ball was kicked by the Chiefs and the attacking player Michael Fitzgerald went charging after it, his eyes stayed glued to the ball the entire way. Both the defending player, Tom Taylor, and Fitzgerald leapt into the air, with both sets of eyes still on the ball. While in the air, Fitzgerald realises he won't be able to fairly contest the ball and bails out at the last second. As gravity pulls him back to the ground, his face makes contact with Taylor's knee and he goes crashing to the ground.

Farewell to the fair contest

In my opinion, there was absolutely no way for Fitzgerald to avoid contact with Taylor and the Crusaders were awarded a penalty. After reviewing the footage, it dawned on me that the referee was more than willing to dig into his pocket and send Fitzgerald to the bin for, and these were his words, "being reckless in the air". Fortunately for the Chiefs flank, he escaped a 10 minute rest after the TMO made certain the referee noticed it was a fair contest for the ball.

Please do not get me wrong! I am all for the protection of players in the air but not at the expense of losing the concept of a fair contest.

The point I am trying to make is this: protecting players in the air is needed but there needs to be proper implementation of the law and a distinction between what is intentionally playing the man in the air and what simply is a fair contest for possession.

It's all good having a good old' rant but not providing a possible solution. So what I suggest is that the powers that be look to a different sport for help on how to adequately protect players under a high ball, a sport like Field Hockey. Weird I know but it's a fairly simple rule that works well.

A player who is about to receive a high ball has "the right of way" and all opposition players must be at least five metres from him. Furthermore, he also first needs to bring the ball under control before the opposition can make an attempt to tackle him.

By adopting this law, players are not only protected but the dishing out of "dubious" yellow cards will come to an end, albeit for that aspect of the game only. If not, then I am afraid teams will begin to take advantage of the current situation and look to intentionally get opposition players sent off.

It seems to me like Gregor Townsend agrees…


And he has a possible solution of his own…

By Tauriq Ebrahim


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