Rugby World Cup: Is There A Citing Bias Against RWC Minnows?

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NEW YORK, NY – Going into the last Rugby World Cup in 2011, I wrote about how the World Rugby organization (then called the IRB or International Rugby Board) was scuttling the minnows with a horrible schedule. Smaller nations had to play three games in 11 days while the Tier One teams (the 6 Nations and then-Tri-Nations sides) would have 20 days to play the same number of matches. For a closer look at that travesty, check out this piece posted on Bleacher Report earlier this year.

Tuliagie Knee gifOnce again, injustice for smaller rugby nations has reared its head – only this time it is in the apparent bias of the citing commission.

The gif to the left is of Alesana Tuilagi apparently leading with his knee into contact. He was handed a five-week ban. Thanks to an massive outcry, vociferously supported by retired Welsh legends Jonathan Davies and Shane Williams, as well as retired England stars Lewis Moody and Ben Kay, the ban was reduced to two weeks on appeal.

The fact it was cited at all was what upset traditional rugby fans and players. Declan Yeats, RWU’s expert on illegal play of all types, was livid. Because, as far as most were concerned, Tuilagi did nothing wrong.

The way Tuilagi ran is how I teach the kids I coach to run – knee high, use the open hand (which he admittedly didn’t), and give the opponent nothing to tackle.

Tuilagi stillSavea in contactTo back up – and I don’t want to go all Jake Frechette with lots of pictures, but please try to keep up – on the left is a still of Tuilagi making contact with the Japan player. Compare that to the image on the right. That is New Zealand’s Julian Savea going into contact. Tuilagi’s leg looks a little higher, but that is more likely poor timing. Another fraction of a second and we would have nothing to discuss.

As pointed out by another rugby rainman – who is a cop during the day: The JO (Judging Officer) does not help himself further – in his decision on entry point, he accepts that AT (Alex Tuilagi) did not intend to cause injury, although during his findings he says that the actions (of the raised leg/knee) was an intentional and deliberate leading and striking with the knee.

He compounds this muddled train of thought by stating that AT’s actions were designed to improve his chances of running over or through a smaller and weaker opponent (surely this is what all coaches want their ball carriers to do?). The JO’s claim that this is not his normal running style is just plain wrong … In short, the JO’s findings are contradictory, confusing and quite possibly prejudiced, given his comments on AT’s normal running style.

Johnny May jumpsWhat makes this apparent bias against smaller nations all the more incredible is the fact it is also illegal to jump into a tackle… yet this image on the right shows England’s Johnny May apparently doing just that in the opening match of the World Cup. He wasn’t cited. Instead, the Fiji player was, for lifting in the tackle.

The trend continues. World Rugby has decided to get tough on the application of laws regarding player safety and dangerous play. However, there also appears to be an inconsistency in the upholding of the new guidelines which favours Tier One nations.

RWU staff member and former college football player DJ Eberle is of the belief that you could spot a holding penalty (when a defensive player is illegally held by an offensive player in the process of blocking) in nearly every play of an American football game. But it doesn’t happen unless it is really egregious. It is the same with citiable offenses. Here is the list of citations going into the final weekend of pool games.

RWC 2015 Citings

There have been 17 players cited for foul play during the group stage of this year’s Rugby World Cup. Of those 17 citations, only three have been for players of Tier One nations. I do not count Argentina as Tier One because though they are affiliated with SANZAR, they are not a member. Of those three citings only one resulted in a suspension.

As evidenced by the Tuilagi case, there seems to be a keen eye on the actions of players from minnow nations. The tackle for which Sam Burgess was cited was adjudged to require no further action – while just about every other dangerous tackle got the player in question suspended for at least a week. Tom Wood was warned for striking an opponent. Not included here was the contact of foot-to-face of Dan Carter against an Argentine try scorer or the match yellow – which could easily have been red – for Richie McCaw’s trip on the Argentine scrum-half to stop a quick tap break.

All that has been demonstrated through pool play is that World Rugby seems to find a way to take the minnows to task. When an act of foul play is committed by a player from a Tier One nation, quantifiers of the case are considered and the ‘spirit of’ law is factored into the decision.  When that player is from a smaller country, however, it appears that the same laws are followed strictly and to the letter, with no ‘spirit of’ wriggle-room.

We want to grow the game, but it looks like the powers-that-be are currently unable or unwilling to change things. It will be slow, since the Blazer bunch never want to give up their big meals and such, but I live in hope that we will come to a time that fairness in the application of rugby’s laws is paid more than lip service.

That’s it for now! Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Nick Hall, DJ Eberle, Jake Frechette, Scheenagh Harrington, Jamie Loyd, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Audrey Youn, Akweley Okine, Rocky Brown and Declan Yeats, respectively.

And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs!

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About Junoir Blaber 868 Articles
Born in Osu, Accra, Ghana, West Africa, Junoir Blaber is a rare commodity; while most Ghanians eat, sleep and dream Soccer (football), Junoir is all about Rugby. A self-proclaimed Rugbyologist, he has been involved in Rugby as a ref, coach, administrator and player since Columbus discovered Ohio. His useful/trivial rugby knowledge qualify Blaber as RWU's Senior Correspondent & known in rugby circles as The Rugby Rain Man. He can also be found moonlighting for our American partners at MeetTheMatts.com.