LONDON: Wasps overcame Leicester Tigers 41-35 in an exciting Premiership Rugby clash on Sunday, but the main talking point was a red card handed out as part of a crackdown on concussion-related injuries.
Just over a week after Australia’s George Smith, a flanker with Bristol, was sent off for a dangerous tackle against Saracens that was later rescinded by a disciplinary hearing, towering Tigers lock Will Spencer saw red in similar circumstances at the Ricoh Arena.
Spencer, a lock who is seven inches taller, caught hooker Tommy Taylor with a shoulder to the head – an immediate red card under regulations designed to ensure rugby union adopts a zero-tolerance policy to challenges that could lead to concussions.
But Spencer’s supporters will point to the fact that by dipping low to tackle a player, Taylor, who much shorter, he had made an effort to bend his knees and waist and should not be penalised, in effect, for being tall.
Leicester interim head coach Geordan Murphy shook his head at referee Ian Tempest’s decision as Spencer left the field.
Yet it was hard not to have some sympathy for the referee, with officials often facing conflicting calls to both apply the rules strictly and use their own judgement.
“That for me is crazy, it’s rugby. We need to start picking players under five foot,” said the former Ireland international.
“I see the game becoming very, very different to the game I played and loved. From my point of view, it wasn’t a red card.”
“Tommy Taylor is pulling out of the tackle because he doesn’t want to run upright, so his height is dipped. And I thought the first point of contact was on the shoulder.”
“It’s a really tough one. I didn’t think it was a red card – I thought it might be yellow but red has killed the game.”
Taylor was sent off in the 40th minute. After Elliot Daly booted the resulting penalty, Wasps led 25-18 at halftime.
“The TMO (television match official) was pushing for a red card, saying have a look at it again. It’s a bitter pill when the TMO says we have to look at it when all the players, staff and coaches thought it was a good shot.
“It’s a collision sport and is a sport for all sizes but what we’ll probably end up with is rugby league where everyone is the same height and shape.”
Murphy insisted: “I understand the principle of looking after players, but if that is a head shot then Tommy Taylor stays down and we have a head injury assessment, but he doesn’t.”
But Wasps boss Dai Young, the former Wales and British and Irish Lions prop, said everyone now knew what the rules were.
“Whether it has to go that way or not, it’s clear, that’s the law. It’s there,” Young said.
“We’ve had the directive that any tackle direct to the head is a red card.”
He added: “I don’t think it’s something the referee should be criticised for. If it was a yellow card I wouldn’t have complained about it. I hope the player doesn’t get banned for it. It’s difficult to get that 100% right every time.”
“We have to protect the players. The guys who are saying the game’s gone soft are guys who are not out there.”