The 22-year-old Chiefs enforcer is dealing with a growing rap sheet – his judiciary hearing tonight could add another suspension to the four weeks he received last year for a no-arms tackle against the Bulls.
The crackdown on high tackles and the issues surrounding concussions in the game is turning Johnny Fa’auli into something of an outlaw. Whilst this latest incident resulted in an ugly outcome, there are marginal differences between this tackle and the one he delivered two months earlier on Reds number 8 Caleb Timu, which was applauded by commentators at the time as ‘legal’ and ‘a good hit’.
On Friday night against the Hurricanes, he led with the shoulder and made first contact with the head, leaving Goosen heavily concussed. Goosen, preparing for contact, crouched his body in an attempt to bump his opponent off, lowering his head into the firing line of Fa’auli’s trajectory. Such is the velocity of the game, split-second judgments can’t always be accurate. When multiple players are involved, the tackle area becomes a complex sum of moving parts, sometimes with adverse outcomes.
Goosen’s decision to crouch into the tackle and attempt to win the collision unfortunately played as much a part as Fa’auli’s low-to-high tackle technique. If he stays upright and draws and passes, he may get hit late but contact with the head is avoidable.
“I mean, I don’t like to see a red card in any game, but red is red, and you don’t get a more obvious red card than that. That was shoulder, no arms, straight to the head, with force, with intent. There’s no butting out of any of that,” head coach Chris Boyd said after the match.
“It was a deliberate act.”
The outcome of the tackle, under the rules, certainly justified the decision to hand Fa’auli a red card, however, it is overzealous to make claims of deliberate intent. Sure, he intended to make a big shot, maybe temporarily sting Goosen, but deliberate malicious intent to injure him with a concussion? Highly doubtful.
The moment he decides to launch, he loses sight of the target by tucking his head. His arm movement is questionable, often late to wrap but enough evidence is there that he is attempting a legal tackle. Never is the arm tucked inwards towards the chest like the traditional shoulder charge.
Fa’auli’s technique is fraught with risk but the payoff is big. The midfielder has a liking for a big shot that can set the tone for his side and swing momentum or cause a turnover.
If the onus is on the defender to account for any movement the ball carrier makes, including ducking or lowering of the torso then Fa’auli is guilty of that, and only that.
Both players were expecting the opposite of each other – Goosen, anticipating a low tackle, prepared to meet him low. Fa’auli sighting Goosen upright launched upward into his chest area. Both players misjudged the collision area, resulting in a sickening blow. As the defender, Fa’auli takes the blame, but it can’t be called deliberate.
The end result will likely be a second long suspension in two seasons, seeing him banned from playing in the opening rounds of 2019.
His tribulations mirror that of another dreadlocked 12 that also dealt with a fair share of criticism for his tackle technique at times – ex-All Black Ma’a Nonu. Who can forget the no-arms, blindside shoulder charge on Piri Weepu when he was at the Highlanders? That was real force, a league-style shoulder charge worthy of the NRL in the mid-noughties era.
Old school centre Brian Lima, also revered for his brutal tackling, was nicknamed the ‘Chiropractor’ for his back-breaking hits. A review of any of his ‘greatest’ hits will reveal far worse infringements than Fa’auli.
With the game becoming more aware of the long-term effects of concussions, he will have to shelve his launch approach or risk spending more time on the sidelines with more instances like these. When it comes off its’ a crowd pleaser and when it doesn’t the consequences are disastrous. And it is a few centimetres between both.
Johnny Fa’auli is a Hitman stuck in the wrong era.
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