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'Astonishing a player gets 3-game ban for getting kicked in neck'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Worcester have vowed to lobby World Rugby after a disciplinary hearing gave club skipper Ted Hill a three-game ban that will deny him the chance to impress Eddie Jones in the coming week to ensure he keeps his place in England squad after being involved in last week’s mini-training camp in London. The twice capped back-rower was red-carded in last Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership defeat against Gloucester.

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Referee Andrew Jackson decided Hill had tip-tackled Gloucester’s Lloyd Evans in the 75th minute of the match at Sixways and while the Warriors have no complaints about the committee that heard the case on Tuesday, Worcester boss Jonathan Thomas has an issue with the World Rugby framework surrounding the tip tackle law. 

Unlike incidents such as a shoulder to head contact where a referee has the scope to look for mitigation to try and bring the level of sanction down from a red card, Worcester are unhappy that there is no mitigation regarding the assessment of a tip tackle. 

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Jonny Hill guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload
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Jonny Hill guests on the latest RugbyPass Offload

It is their belief that Hill was caught out by getting a boot to his neck from Evans which resulted in the reaction from the Worcester skipper that led to his opponent falling to the ground and landing on his head/neck area and resulted in the 22-year-old getting red-carded.    

At the weekly Worcester media briefing, RugbyPass asked Thomas how the news of the ban was taken by Hill as the back-rower now finds himself in the tricky position of knowing that while he would be available for the England training week in Jersey if selected, he is unable to play in the weeks leading up to the camp and can’t impress Jones with his club form.

“Ted is disappointed,” replied Thomas. “He’s disappointed but the impressive quality that Ted has is he takes things in his stride. He is never too high, never gets too low. He is emotionally consistent but Ted is disappointed because he is not a dirty player. When you are a quality player you know opposition teams try and target your best players and we have had that a little bit this season with people like Willi (Heinz) and Ted.

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“We know that opposition teams are targeting them and going after them and there have been a couple of games where Ted’s been targeted a little bit and goaded and he has just not reacted at all to any of it. That gives you an insight into his emotional control, so there is no way that Ted intentionally would do anything dirty or an intentional act of foul play. 

“We don’t condone foul play at the club but clearly what happened was a freak accident. It was a set of circumstances where the stars were aligned in the wrong way and the (Gloucester) player fell on his back and neck… I’m frustrated and it’s something World Rugby needs to look at in terms of that particular law. 

“We had to plead guilty because by definition it was a tip tackle. We didn’t want to risk Ted getting banned for any longer and the panel, it was a fair hearing but all those guys on the panel can do is judge Ted on the framework. The issue is the framework itself and the reason why Ted was in the hearing was that the opposing player led with his boot while he had his other foot on the ground. He was balanced and hit him in the neck. I don’t understand it and I don’t get it – it’s something that we will take up with World Rugby.”

Earlier in the Worcester media session, Thomas said about the Hill hearing: “I want to put on record that I didn’t have an issue with the process that we went through on Tuesday. I have no issue with the process because, in terms of the panel that were assessing Ted, they have just got to work to the framework that they are given by World Rugby. So I have no issue with the process that we went through. It was a fair process. 

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“The issue I have is, the framework itself because we had no other choice but to plead guilty – we did have a choice but you risk getting banned for longer. So we have to plead guilty because, by the definition of the framework, it was technically a tip tackle. The issue I have is, Ted didn’t do anything wrong at any point in terms of his build-up, the kick chase. He controlled himself, he was in a balanced position, he slowed his feet before the tackle. 

“In terms of coaching your mindset is always just to aim for the midriff of the player, so Ted was bent to the hips which is what they are looking for with the new tackle law. He was looking at the midriff of the player and then went to execute. At the point where he went to execute the tackle, the player’s leg was raised and hit him in the neck, so the reason why we were in the hearing and the reason why all of this panned out is because of the opposition player, not because of Ted. 

“The opposition player lifted his leg into Ted’s neck and that is the reason why Ted then went to grab but he couldn’t see what he was grabbing because he had been kicked in the neck. If the leg wasn’t there it would have been the ribs or midriff. At the time the referee said the player was off balance but I don’t believe the player was off balance because he had one foot on the floor, so it made it a legal hit. 

“If the player was not on the floor and Ted hit him in the air that is reckless from Ted, but the player had one foot on the floor and he brought his other leg up to Ted’s neck and kicked Ted’s neck area. Where I struggle with it is if there is a high tackle, within the framework of a high tackle there is mitigation and there are different forms of mitigation. But with the tip tackle rule, there is no mitigation within the framework for what was a completely freak accident.

You could argue that the opposing player was reckless the fact that he lifted his leg and we have seen other examples where players around the world have been sent off for kicking out. I just find it amazing that we are going to lose our club captain for three games for something that I don’t believe was intentional. 

“The only thing Ted did wrong was obviously he lifted an elbow, but he didn’t drive the player into the ground, he let him go. So to summarise again we don’t have an issue with the process we went through, we have an issue with the framework on that particular law and it is something that needs looking at by World Rugby because I just find it astonishing that a player is going to get a three-game ban for essentially getting kicked in the neck. 

“Ted had lost his bearings at that point. When something happens that quickly in the game you get a little disoriented because you have just been kicked in the neck. Ted wasn’t actually fully aware of what he was doing. It was the opposition player that caused that by kicking Ted’s neck so I just struggle with the fact we are going to lose our club captain for three games for something that is within the framework from World Rugby. It needs to be seriously looked at because I don’t think it is fair on Ted.”

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