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Jared Payne & Rugby’s Infuriating Issue; Inconsistent Interpretation

Anyone with a passing interest in rugby will have known that it was quarter-finals weekend. The action was brilliant, intense and compelling but there was one incident that overshadowed all the action. Jared Payne’s red card.

Opinions over whether or not Ulster’s Kiwi should have been given his marching orders are certainly split. My concerns lie with the inconsistent decisions of referees’ sanctions with regards to their interpretation of foul play; are they basing it for example, on the seriousness of an injury, the intent or the recklessness of the tackle.

The root of the problem is the IRB’s lack of clarity on whether foul play is an offence, accidental or not. Using Payne’s red card for example, the player fell foul of IRB law 10.4 (i) which states;

“Tackling the jumper in the air. A player must not tackle nor tap, push or pull the foot or feet of an opponent jumping for the ball in a lineout or open play.”

The ruling suggests that a player must be fully aware to be found guilty of the offence i.e. tackling in the jumper in the air. Payne’s eyes were most certainly on the ball until perhaps the second before impact. But could anyone say with strong conviction that the Ulster fullback’s intent was to tackle his Saracens’ opponent? A stronger case for Payne is that he was contesting for possession but Goode rose higher to claim the ball. A similar incident happened last year between the Hurricanes and the Highlanders as Matt Proctor and Colin Slade collided in a contest for a high ball. The match official awarded a scrum for the knock-on. Is there any difference between this incident and what happened at Ravenhill?

In other cases on the rugby field a referee will use his discretion to decide if a penalty is committed due to foul play. For example, if a player tackles an opponent high around the neck it is deemed a penalty. However, if a player slips into a tackle and gets caught around the neck the man in charge will wave play on as there is no intention to catch the attacker high. Alain Rolland believed there was no reason to penalise Jamie Heaslip for a late hit on Conor Murray at the Aviva as the Munster scrum half was dipping down into the hit. Was Heaslip’s tackle not dangerous or reckless? If Conor Murray had been seriously hurt would Heaslip have been sanctioned with a penalty and card?

The law relating to which colour of card a player should be shown if found guilty of foul play is even less enlightening. The IRB law 10.5 on sanctions informs:

a) “Any player who infringes any part of the Foul Play Law must be admonished, or cautioned and temporarily suspended for a period of ten minutes playing time or sent off.”

The ruling does not explain how to judge the severity of an offence. It is up to the referee to decide whether an action is intentional or not, is dangerous or not, is reckless or not and therefore, whether a sanction is warranted or not. Once again the severity of the offence is up to the interpretation of the whistle blower. In the second Lions test against South Africa in 2009 Ronan O’ Gara was only penalised for his tackle on Springbok scrum half Fourie Du Preez. If Christophe Berdos had been at Ravenhill on Saturday night would Payne have been red carded?

I am in no doubt that Jérôme Garcès sent Payne off due to Alex Goode being carried off on a stretcher. In the second half Saracens’ Mouritz Botha tackled Ulster’s Robbie Diack in the air. Only a penalty was awarded. The difference between the two incidents was that Robbie Diack landed on his feet. Rugby cannot be refereed based on the fact that a player will only be sanctioned if his foul play results in an injury to an opposing player. A small piece of dangerous play is not different to a big piece of dangerous play.

Whether Garcès was right or wrong to send Jared Payne off it is certain that another referee probably would have seen the incident from a different perspective; this is caused by the IRB’s vague laws. The IRB must clear up this lack of clarity around foul play or else many big games will be decided by the referee instead of the players on the field.

Matt Cassidy, Pundit Arena.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.