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'Dumb tackle choice': RFU chief's blunt verdict on Munster red card

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images)

The clampdown on shoulder-to-head tackles in the Heineken Champions Cup continued on Saturday with Jack O’Donoghue of Munster red-carded for his first-half collision with Northampton’s Dave Ribbans in Limerick.

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Munster were 17-0 ahead when the play at Thomond Park was halted with the clock showing 22:10 minutes gone. Referee Tual Trainini had initially decided he would brandish O’Donoghue with only a yellow card but he was encouraged to take another look at the footage by his TMO Eric Gauzins.

The different angles he saw resulted in him upgrading the seriousness of the foul play tackle and with no mitigation evident according to the officials, O’Donoghue was sent off just three minutes after he had scored the second Munster try.

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“Eric, what I see now is a contact to the head by the No6 red on No4 white,” said Trainini to his TMO. “This is foul play as the player is upright and the level of danger is high. At this moment I am on a red card so let’s see if we have a mitigating factor.

Gauzins replied: “Let me show you a wide angle… It’s an okay decision.” That left Trainini to conclude: “I don’t see a change in height, I don’t see a change in dynamic due to the first tackle so for me, I don’t see a mitigating factor. I am on a red card against six red.”

Ex-Ireland lock Donncha O’Callaghan, who twice won the Champions Cup with Munster, agreed with the outcome. “It’s the right decision,” he said while co-commentating for BT Sport. “It’s is going to be tough to take, especially for Jack O’Donoghue, but I think it is the right decision.

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“We have to keep going with this, we have to tidy up the game for head contact. That is contact with a shoulder to head, it is a red card. I do feel sorry for Jack O’Donoghue. Late at the line he has to change his decision but you have to be lower.”

Studio pundit Conor O’Shea, the RFU’s director of performance, remarked at half-time: “Donncha was great on commentary. There was no excusing that as a Munster man. Players have to learn. There is no malice in what he did there, it was just a dumb tackle choice that he didn’t need to make.”

Ex-England skipper Lawrence Dallaglio added: “You score a try in the back row up against a pretty strong back row and you are feeling good about life until you make the wrong tackle selection. I don’t think there are any doubts about it.

“Jack O’Donoghue had time to adjust, he could have easily gone in for the turnover and if you make contact without wrapping your arm, it’s a very easy decision for the referee. His body height is still going up as he makes contact. A very easy decision for the referee.”

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The red card was the second of the day in the tournament for shoulder-to-head contact as Sale’s Cobus Wiese was sent off for a similar incident in his team’s defeat to Toulouse.

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