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'Excessive': Pundits angry as Umaga red-carded again for Wasps

By Liam Heagney

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Boos rang around the Coventry Building Society Arena on Saturday after Jacob Umaga was controversially red-carded six minutes before the interval in Wasps’ Heineken Champions Cup match versus defending champions Toulouse. The one-cap England prospect had only just completed a suspension for the Gallagher Premiership red card he received on Boxing Day for a dangerous tackle on Ollie Hassell-Collins of London Irish.  

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Umaga was given a three-match ban following that sending-off and was set to sit out the European game versus Toulouse. However, the successful completion of a World Rugby tackle school intervention shaved the last week off that suspension, freeing the 23-year-old to be chosen at full-back by Wasps boss Lee Blackett. 

He was unfortunately left wishing that he hadn’t had his ban cut from three games to two as his return for his club was abruptly ended on 34 minutes by a red card from Irish referee Chris Busby, who was taking charge of his first-ever Champions Cup match. 

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The incident unfolded at a time when Wasps were 14-7 up but trying to negate an attack where Toulouse were offloading and attacking the space. Scrum-half Martin Page-Relo, chosen to start in place of Antoine Dupont, raced towards the home side’s 22 where he was tackled around the legs by Charlie Atkinson. Umaga then intervened higher up and there was head-to-head contact with the visiting French player.   

BT Sport pundits Lawrence Dallaglio and Austin Healey were adamant that it was a yellow card offence at worst for Umaga but referee Bushy reached a different conclusion about the Wasps player with his TMO Brian McNeice.

“There is foul play here,” said Busby. “For me, the tackler’s tackle height is too high, he is upright and we clearly have direct head-to-head contact. What I want to look at is whether we have any potential mitigation. There is a second tackler but I am not sure that changes the dynamic of the situation or caused a change of direction.”

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After another review of the footage, Busby concluded: “So, as we have discussed it, is a clear act of foul play. The tackle height is too high, he is upright, it’s clear head-to-head contact. I see this as a high degree of danger. I don’t see any reason to mitigate so for me it is a red card.” 

Busby then ran back to the other half of the pitch and flashed the red card at Umaga, explaining: “It’s an upright tackle, it’s a clear head-to-head contact. There is no mitigation. For me, it’s a red card.”

A chorus of boos immediately rang out at the ground as Wasps supporters reacted incredulously to the sending off. It also exercised the pundits in the TV commentary booth. “That is excessive,” bemoaned Healey. “I don’t think it is a red card.

“At worst, he has received a red card here for poor tackle technique, not for the head-on-head. Well obviously for the head-on-head but that is a byproduct of hitting with the wrong shoulder. He hasn’t intentionally gone high on the head for me. It’s an accidental collision.”  

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Dallaglio added: “The (Toulouse) player going into contact has jumped into Umaga. It is the wrong technique. He [Umaga] has got his head in the wrong position but in trying to free himself from Atkinson’s tackle, he [Page-Relo] has jumped into Umaga so there is mitigation and that is a yellow at best. The referee has got that wrong.”

Wasps went on to beat Toulouse 30-22 with a three-try performance despite being a man down for 46 minutes, but they will surely fight the corner for Umaga as it wasn’t the first time they received a controversial Champions Cup red card this season. Skipper Brad Shields was sent off versus Munster for a tackle on Dave Kilcoyne and after he was subsequently banned, he appealed and had the suspension successfully overturned. 

The debate surrounding the Umaga red was further inflamed in the second half when Toulouse’s Anthony Jelonch was only given a yellow card for his crunching high tackle on Wasps’ Alfie Barbeary. “For me, the tackle height is too high by No8 red,” reckoned referee Busby.

“We do have head contact but I do see this situation is different than the one in the first half and we do have a significant drop by the ball carrier just prior to contact. He [Jelonch] is attempting to make a legal tackle so I am seeing mitigation there… all that being said it is still dangerous. Yellow card.”

TV pundit Healey commented: “I think the first tackle is very, very similar because it is a really big drop in height in the very last seconds because there are two (Wasps) people in both tackles.”

Dallaglio added: “I don’t disagree with this [Jelonch] decision and I do understand what he [the referee] has done but I don’t agree with the Umaga sending off because there was mitigation in that as well.”

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