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4 August 2022
new zealand v ireland steinlager series 2022
Both Garry Ringrose and Angus Ta’avao were concussed in this accidental collision in Dunedin, but Ta’avao was controversially sent from the field.

Rugby had to do something about the head knocks. The revelation that Ryan Jones, an excellent Wales and Lions No 8 and a thoroughly decent bloke, has been diagnosed with dementia at 41, is the latest tragic, salient reminder of why rugby had to do something. But when people are being sent off, and Test matches arguably decided on what are essentially accidents, it’s too tempting to think the lawmakers have gone overboard.

It’s hard to look past the case of Angus Ta’avao, sent off during the second Test against Ireland for something that appeared completely unintentional, a situation made ridiculous when a World Rugby judicial panel decided to suspend him for another three weeks. Ta’avao pleaded guilty to foul play, which is surprising in itself, but tried to argue that the red card was excessive. I’d wager a majority of rugby followers would have backed Angus to the hilt, but not so a judicial panel led by Singapore’s Wang Shao-Ing (a women’s trailblazer in Asian rugby), along with a five-Test England winger from the late ’90s by the name of Leon Lloyd, and Frank Hadden, a former Scotland coach.

In criticising the judiciary, I risk being inconsistent, because during Super Rugby I did complain with some frequency that the judiciary was not being tough enough; that players being sent off for genuinely dangerous play via the 20-minute red card should have been getting more than the piecemeal sentences handed out by a benevolent panel. But here we had a case of someone who many will argue was simply moving forward with his fellow defenders when a sudden switch of play put him in the path of an oncoming runner with virtually no time to react and lower his head to a safer position.

It wouldn’t have been so bad had the 20-minute red been in play, but that was an experiment destined to fail. Put that down to a combination of the lenient Super Rugby Pacific judiciaries, and the traditional Northern Hemisphere mistrust of any initiative coming out of the south. As a consequence, the spectacle, the contest, continues to be distorted and compromised. Don’t get me wrong, Ireland was the better team and thoroughly deserved its historic series win.

The tourists were better coached, better performed, better in pretty much every facet, and they were certainly on top in Dunedin before the Ta’avao incident, but that red card was still a flash point in the series. Surely this is not what the red card is supposed to be about. Banishment from the field is the ultimate punishment for egregious acts of foul play, not accidents – even clumsy ones. The absurd inconsistency was underscored in the final Test. While Brodie Retallick was trudging off with a broken cheekbone, set to miss most of the Rugby Championship, Irish prop Andrew Porter received only a yellow
from referee Wayne Barnes...

Continue this story in our August 22 issue – on shelves now!

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