The red card issued by Alain Rolland to Wales’ Rugby captain Sam Warburton caused plenty of debate on Saturday but few remarks proved quite as bizarre as those uttered by Frankie Sheahan on RTE at half-time.
The image at the top of the page, the nearest thing we have to a logo, covers three different sports. The one to the left features me playing American Football for DCU Saints against Tallaght Outlaws. I’m going to draw your attention to two incidents in the second quarter of that game which help explain why Sheahan’s comments this morning are a dangerous interpretation of the rules of Rugby or any sport.
Early in the second quarter we were driving into Tallaght territory, lined up at left tackle I moved downfield on a run play to help block for running back David McMahon. In the open field I charged towards a defender aiming to block him, at the last moment however he dropped to his knees. This is known as a cut block. I took flight and fortunately my momentum wasn’t such that I flipped over. It could have been much worse.
The legislation on open field cut blocks is sketchy across the levels of the game. For the most part however they are permitted but only when the blocker begins from a low position, so the person being hit has time to attempt to hurdle.
There was no penalty called, largely because I was unhurt. The play was however clearly dangerous, the angle at which I became airborne from the hit could just as easily have been such as to cause serious neck injury. I don’t know what the intent of the young man who made the hit was but I doubt it was more malicious than “I better stop this guy”.
Later in the same quarter I was injured. An opposing player of similar size to me slipped and landed on my ankle. It was wholly unavoidable. No rule could have stopped that.
So about what Frankie said
Rugby Law 10.4(j) Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player’s feet are still off the ground such that the player’s head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play.
At half time on RTE, Frankie Sheahan first criticised the decision by saying “He wasn’t that injured.” After being called to task on these comments by George Hook, Sheahan followed up by maintaining that the level of injury should affect the sanction.
The red card is not for the injury caused. It’s because the tackled player is not in a position to protect himself as he hits the ground. This is crucial as, like the example above, Clerc’s fate was in the hands of Warburton. Irrespective of Warburton’s intent, he put Clerc in an avoidable position where Clerc’s safety was at considerable risk.
There are unavoidable injuries in sport all the time. Rugby is no exception, accidents happen. The responsibilities on those playing extends beyond not intending to cause harm. If you don’t intend to cause harm but still take a risk with the safety of another player the potential consequences are the same.
My issue is not with whether is was a red card or a sin bin offence, my issue is with Sheahan’s interpretation of the difference. Clerc got up, by Sheahan’s estimation Clerc would have needed to be injured for Warburton to get a red card. Governing bodies don’t punish based on severity of injury. They legislate to try and prevent such injuries from occurring. That’s why Sheahan’s comments are dangerous
A player’s neck is worth more than any game.
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