Justin Marshall: Reducing contact has gone too far

GONE: Referee Brendon Pickerill shows Michael Fatialofa of the Hurricanes a yellow card during the round three Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Hurricanes at FMG Stadium Waikato on March 10, 2017 in Hamilton, New Zealand. PHOTO: NZ HERALD

Former All Blacks and Crusaders half back Justin Marshall has come out swinging over Super Rugby rulings on foul play.

Marshall highlighted incidents in recent weeks, including Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock’s two-week-ban for what he said was “a rub against an opponent’s face with his elbow”, and the red carding of Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo and Bulls lock RG Snyman at Loftus Versfeld.

Marshall said the brutal physicality has been taken out of rugby to the detriment of the game.

Said Marshall in his weekly column in the NZ Herald: “For me, there are two issues involved. The first is that it’s a contact game – players are trained and programmed to run hard at each other and there are going to be times when there is often hard physical contact. That includes the aerial aspect – players contesting high kicks.

“I feel we’re taking the really brutal physicality out of the game, and the second issue is that players are thinking twice about how to react to fast-changing events in front of them and that’s not good for the game.”

Sky commentator Justin Marshall

He said players are now going into areas of contact without confidence due to the fear of being carded. He made note of instances where players are being carded for high tackles that are the fault of the ball carrier and not the tackler. For example cards have been given in the past for high tackles that have involved the ball carrier slipping, which has resulted in their head coming into the contact zone lower than the tackler would have expected.

“I’m not condoning foul play and am certainly a supporter of getting on top of concussion and serious injuries in the game, but we’ve got to respect rugby for what it is. It’s a physical game about contact and winning possession but, bit by bit, we’re eliminating contact from the game,” he wrote.

“For me, Naholo was trying to get the ball and he used his shoulder to protect himself from the other player. The Bulls player was hit high but I believe that’s just part of game.

Marshall said the red card of Snyman was also harsh, stating that he was cleaning a Highlanders player out of the ruck, who was there illegally slowing down the ball, when the Bulls were in a try scoring position.

Have Your say: What do you think of the red and yellow card-friendly nature of Super Rugby? Email gordon.findlater@starmedia.kiwi

What others think of Marshall’s column?

Reuben Thorne, former All Blacks captain: “I thought the Bulls player charged into a ruck against a defenceless guy and deliberately went for his head which probably warranted a red card. The Naholo one, he made contact with the head but I don’t think it was intentional but more reckless. Whether it should be a yellow or red card is the question there.”

Scott Pawson, New Brighton division one coach: “Even down at club level it’s become very officious. It was talked about during the coaches meeting at the start of the year, any kind of contact with the head is now a yellow card. I think common sense needs to prevail in some cases. If the ball carrier slips or is going for the try line his head is sometimes around knee height, how are you meant to stop that?”

Martin Dodgson, Sumner division one coach: “It all comes down to the law changes. Referees can be held accountable as well, if their bosses are saying you need to pay attention to this then they’ve got to do it, so I can sympathise with them. At the end of the day, though you want 30 guys on the field, there are some tackles you look at and think did that really deserve a card.”

Reuben Thorne – former All Black captain: “I thought the Bulls player charged into a ruck against a defenceless guy and deliberately went for his head which probably warranted a red card. The Naholo one, he made contact with the head but I don’t think it was intentional but more reckless. Whether it should be a yellow or red card is the question there.”

Scott Pawson – New Brighton division one coach: “Even down at club level it’s become very officious. It was talked about during the coaches meeting at the start of the year, any kind of contact with the head is now a yellow card. I think common sense needs to prevail in some cases. If the ball carrier slips or is going for the try line his head is sometimes around knee height, how are you meant to stop that.”

Martin Dodgson – Sumner division one coach: “It all comes down to the law changes. Referees can be held accountable as well, if their bosses are saying you need to pay attention to this then they’ve got to do it, so I can sympathise with them. At the end of the day though you want 30 guys on the field, there are some tackles you look at and think did that really deserve a card.”

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