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'Another day, another set of rules': Hurricanes prop let off with yellow card after dangerous tackle

By Sam Smith
Tyrel Lomax. (Original photo by Getty Images)

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Referees have seemingly struggled throughout this year’s Super Rugby competitions to consistently make the correct calls when it comes to dangerous tackles.

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Whilst there have been few officiating decisions that could change the course of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, given the relatively one-sided nature of many of the fixtures, fans have been left frustrated at the seeming ‘finger in the air’ approach taken when it’s come to punishing reckless tackles.

In the Super Rugby Aotearoa final, however, the Crusaders were somewhat lucky to escape with two yellow cards for dangerous challenges from All Blacks Codie Taylor and Sevu Reece – with their two tackle attempts both lucky not to cause serious damage to the men on the receiving end.

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Red cards – despite being reduced from full-match disadvantages to just 20 minutes – could have changed the flow of that match entirely.

The Chiefs were then on the receiving end of a sending-off when Damian McKenzie was ushered from the field after a high challenge on Reds halfback Tate McDermott two weeks ago. McKenzie was suspended for the remainder of the Trans-Tasman competition and despite a late fightback from the Chiefs, the six-point loss they suffered on the night effectively ended their title hopes.

While many understood and agreed with the decision, some were understandably flummoxed when Rebels playmaker Matt To’omua also committed a high tackle in his side’s loss to the Highlanders the following day. A penalty was issued but nothing further – despite there being an argument for a yellow card at the very least.

In last night’s clash between the Hurricanes and the Reds at Sky Stadium in Wellington, James Doleman’s officiating was under question after the New Zealand referee handed Hurricanes prop Tyrel Lomax a yellow card for a high shot on Reds opposite Feao Fotuaika.

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Many felt a red card was more than justified, given that Lomax was always heading into the tackle with his shoulder, connected with Fotuaika’s head, and there were no sudden changes in the height of the defending player.

Doleman, however, seemed to take the low starting height of Fotuaika into the equation – despite the high tackle protocols not suggesting that should be a mitigating factor.

“The player is wrapping however there is direct contact with the shoulder,” Doleman told the two team’s skippers. “The player’s height is very low so we can we mitigate down. It is a yellow card – head contact.”

Reds captain Liam Wright wasn’t happy with the decision, suggesting to Doleman that Fotuaika’s height didn’t change at all during the tackle and implying a red card would be more appropriate under the high tackle framework – but Doleman wasn’t budging with his decision.

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“He’s still very low,” Doleman said. “The tackler is going in for a legal tackle but it is a high tackle so it’s yellow for us.”

Sky Sports commentator and former All Blacks halfback Justin Marshall disagreed with the colour of the card and armchair critics around the globe were also perplexed at the seemingly lenient punishment.

It wasn’t Lomax’s first incident of reckless tackling, with the prop red-carded last year in a match between the Hurricanes and the Blues for a similar crime and suspended for three weeks.

While representing the All Blacks in 2020, Lomax was also dished out a yellow card for a high tackle.

Unfortunately, there was more controversy to come in Friday’s match with Reds No 10 Bryce Hegarty handed a yellow card for intentionally knocking the ball dead in goal – despite little conclusive evidence one way or another.

As a whole, fans were left with a sour taste in their mouth following the match after the string of controversial decisions ultimately transformed a close game into a runaway result for the Hurricanes.

At half time the home side led just 10-7 but the game ended with a sizeable 43-14 scoreline.

Doleman is set to referee one of the three tests between South Africa and the touring British and Irish Lions in the coming months.

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'Another day, another set of rules': Hurricanes prop let off with yellow card after dangerous tackle

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