This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the proliferation of head shots and cards (and the ones that got away), fan behaviour borders and a moment’s reflection for the sake of balance…
Too many head cases
In a week where one of the game’s more prominent headlines was the estimate of 400 premature deaths of former players (in both codes), it was perhaps inevitable that observers, officials and many others would be looking at head contact incidents, and their consequences, this weekend.
The subject was thrust further into the spotlight by the vexing three-match ban handed down to Leicester’s Guy Porter, who, although it can plausibly be argued he was lax in his technique, is clearly paying the price for rugby’s increased sensitivity. Not paying the price, of course, and further clouding the matter, was Leinster’s Jamison Gibson-Park, who escaped a ban because… no, we can’t work it out either, not if Porter’s act was red card-worthy.
Then there’s the bans themselves. If Porter gets six weeks as his entry point for the ban, was Tolu Latu’s appalling challenge on Baptiste Chouzenoux only twice as bad? How can Porter’s challenge be even mentioned in the same breath as Axel Muller’s wanton charge on Ben Harris?
Those were last week’s indiscretions and inconsistencies, but this weekend simply saw it get worse. How, for example, was Porter’s act any worse, in terms of recklessness and lax technique than Ulster wing Ethan McIlroy’s take-out of Thomas Ramos in the air? Or Rob du Preez’s cover tackle on Luke Morahan – and that had come shortly after Arron Reed had been sent off. And if Nick Schonert had really made contact with the head, shouldn’t he have seen red too? Even when Reed got his marching orders, his co-tackler, who also made head contact with the upper arm, was not in a good technical position at all, yet nothing happened? Not even yellow? The same goes, with bells on, for Ulster’s Rob Herring, who for all the world should have seen red if Tom O’Toole did. If anything, redder.
Indeed, Sale had a 10-minute spell before half-time when they looked for all the world as if they were rugby league players in a union game, so high were many of the tackles. It also looked for all the world as though the sheer numbers of such had overwhelmed the officials to the extent that they didn’t want to bother.
Rugby is trying to give the impression that all are concerned and aware, yet of all the European ties over the two legs, the only one not to be touched by the ongoing crusade against head-high shots was Harlequins’ tie with Montpellier; it’s worth considering that that was the tie which produced the best rugby too.
Technique has been found badly wanting at times – illustrating that the message is not yet getting through as was thought – while consistency in officiating was glaringly absent at others. But then it’s tough to point the finger entirely at officials; if the disciplinary committees are so infuriatingly inconsistent, the message is hardly going to get through to the pitch quickly.
Finally, the root problem is also not being consistently addressed. There were countless high shots and head contacts and collisions this weekend, but glaringly few HIAs. When O’Toole’s shoulder thundered into Anthony Jelonch’s head with enough force for him to be sent off (and don’t forget Herring’s follow-up), Jelonch should have been straight off down the tunnel. Instead, a quick exchange between Matthew Carley and the Toulouse physio, a nod, a gallic shrug, and on Jelonch played. Same applies to Morahan.
The bottom line? On a weekend when many, many eyes were on a thrilling weekend of rugby, within the framework of a looming high-profile legal battle concerning head injuries, rugby did not sell its efforts to solve the problem well at all.
Fans cheering the wrong things in the wrong ways
Ugo Monye’s commentary on the dismissal of Reed was reflective of another problem popping up as a result of the squeeze on head contacts: the big screen replays and fan reactions.
“I just don’t like to hear fans cheering red cards for the opposition,” he said, and he was absolutely spot on, yet the big screen scrutiny of law-contravening acts by players does rather lend itself to that habit.
As the tension rose, there was a fair bit of unsavoury stuff in the stands this weekend. The lone voice which resonated seconds before Marcus Smith’s pivotal kick at goal (not to mention the sound of hundreds of shushes immediately after) might have been more relevant than Smith will ever let on.
Some of the Ulster fans, visible on TV footage shouting obscenities and flicking middle fingers and V-signs for little reason other than that the recipient was clad in white, hugely discredited their organisation. Lest we forget, the Principality Stadium has been forced to clamp down hard on some awful behaviour.
There are lines for fans to tread; some fans are just beginning to creep over them a little too much.
But after all that…
If the above comes across as too negative, we should also remind ourselves just how good this past fortnight has been. Two games were decided by the odd point over two legs, only four of the eight ties were won by the same team both times. Only two out of the 16 matches on offer really came across as mismatches. Some of the rugby served up was sublime, while the officiating of rucks has, as a trend, become noticeably clearer and more consistent.
We’d dearly love the quarter-finals and semi-finals to be two-legged as well. Alas not this time, but we fervently hope that EPRC has noted the excitement of all at the proposition served up to us this past couple of weeks.
READ MORE: Champions Cup Team of the Week: Munster and Harlequins well-represented despite contrasting fortunes
The article Loose Pass: Champions Cup head shots, cards, fan behaviour and a moment’s reflection appeared first on Planetrugby.com.