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'Common sense has to prevail': Kiwi rugby star 'frustrated' over Laulala's yellow card

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

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A New Zealand rugby star says “common sense has to prevail” after All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala was controversially yellow carded against Wales last weekend.

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Laulala was sent to the sin bin at the end of the first half of his side’s 54-16 victory in Cardiff on Sunday [NZT] after connecting his shoulder with Welsh blindside flanker Ross Moriarty’s head.

Fans and pundits have been left divided over referee Mathieu Raynal decision to yellow card Laulala, with some saying that his tackle warranted a red card for direct contact to Moriarty’s head.

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Others believe Laulala couldn’t have gone any lower to make the tackle and that there was little else he could have done given Moriarty led into the tackle head-first while so low to the ground.

Crusaders and Maori All Blacks halfback Bryn Hall is among those who feel Laulala was hard done by as he told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that he felt “frustrated” by the decision made at Principality Stadium.

“Frustrating would probably be the word that I’d use … It’s not common sense,” Hall said.

The five-time Super Rugby and Super Rugby Aotearoa champion labelled Raynal’s decision as “really hard” to agree with, even though he could understand the official’s reasoning behind it.

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“If you talk around head highs from previous send-offs, it’s been you’ve got the tackle technique wrong and you’ve probably been sent off for the right reason, but there’s nothing that Nepo Laulala could have done to be able to stop that situation there,” he said.

“Yes, I understand that there’s going to be a yellow card and they talked around it and went through that, but, for me as a rugby player, it’s really hard to be able to get behind that decision because I think there’s only so much a tackler can do to be able to get that right.

“You look at that example, there’s nothing that Nepo Laulala could have done to try and get that any better. It’s a unique situation, but those kinds of ones that happen, common sense has to prevail.”

Hall added that, when taking into account mitigating factors, a penalty would have sufficed rather than a card of any kind.

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“For me, it’s just a penalty, because I know that there’s obviously laws in place and there’s been other examples where that isn’t the case, but for that one there, you just think, ‘Yes, he has hit his head, but at the same time, he’s putting his head right down, so where’s he supposed to go?’

“For me, personally, if they just walked away and said, ‘Look, it’s just a penalty because there’s obviously factors at hand’, that is probably a little bit common sense thinking.

“It won’t be the last one that we talk around, but for me, personally, I was left frustrated with that yellow card.”

Former Blues and All Blacks hooker James Parsons clarified that Raynal’s explanation for sin binning Laulala was actually because he believed the 30-year-old hadn’t wrapped his arms in the tackle, not because he connected with Moriarty’s head.

Even then, Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that Laulala made further contact with Moriarty’s head when he wrapped his arms in the tackle, which left him in a difficult position to execute a legal tackle.

The two-test international said that, given his size, the only other option available for Laulala would have been to take Moriarty with a grass cut tackle, which is also an outlawed tackling method.

“I found it interesting that the yellow card was given for not wrapping,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“It wasn’t anything to do with the head contact, so it was saying he was basically tucking his shoulder and not attempting to wrap in the tackle, but the irony is, as he’s going to wrap, that’s when he makes contact with the head, and that’s why it looks like he doesn’t look like he’s trying to wrap, as stupid as it sounds.

“I watched it a couple of times, but he hits his head and it tucks the arm back in. For me, if you look at Wallabies hooker [Folau] Fainga’a, he does this grass cut and gets penalised for it all the time, and that’s the only real option that Nepo has.

“That’s a low position, he’s in a pretty low position where he is, so the other thing is he’s got to leave his feet and grass cut, which isn’t allowed either.”

Parsons acknowledged that the situation was just as difficult for the referee as it was for Laulala, and said that he believed all mitigating factors were taken into account by Raynal when making his decision.

However, the ex-Blues captain noted the fact that he and the rest of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod panel interpreted Laulala’s tackle and Raynal’s decision differently is indicative of World Rugby’s flawed rules regarding tackle height and head protection.

“It’s not perfect ever, is it? There’s three of us here and we saw it all differently,” Parsons said of the laws, which he added players and fans alike can’t expect consistency of considering the various interpretations of the rules.

Instead, Parsons said the onus is on the players to adjust to how the referee calls the games, as long as the officials are consistent with their rulings throughout the course of the match.

“That’s part of the game, how good you are at adjusting to the ref and finding where the boundaries are and where the boundaries aren’t, and that’s what makes you a better player or a better team, so that’s part of it, that 80-minute window.

“If there’s consistency across that, I’ll never complain because you just can’t expect a replication. Just like as a player, you can’t expect a replication. When you play 10/10, you’re most probably not going to do 10/10 next week unless you’re Richie McCaw or Dan Carter.

“For the 80 minutes, he was consistent, so that’s the rules you play under, in that sense.”

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