Nigel Owens has used a driving analogy to simplify the debate surrounding the red card issued to England’s Manu Tuilagi in last weekend’s Guinness Six Nations match at Twickenham.
Tuilagi was sent off in the closing minutes for a tackle on Wales’ George North and was subsequently banned for four weeks at a disciplinary hearing. The incident sparked heated debate, with England boss Eddie Jones describing the decision taken by referee Ben O’Keeffe as “absolute rubbish”.
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He said: “I found the red card bizarre. I do not know how you are meant to make a tackle when a guy is falling after a chop tackle. Manu was coming over the top to kill the tackle. It’s absolute rubbish and there is no common sense in such situations. Come on.”
Wales boss Wayne Pivac disagreed, saying: “It was the correct decision.”
Reflecting on the incident where Tuilagi made contact with the head of North with his right shoulder as the wing neared England’s line, ducking into the challenge after being tackled by Henry Slade, Owens explained there could be no mitigation applied in favour of the England player as his approach to the tackle was illegal in the first place.
Writing in his weekly walesonline.co.uk column, the veteran official explained: “If you are driving down a 30mph zone, you’re under the limit and suddenly, right out of the blue, someone runs out in front you and you hit them but there’s absolutely nothing you could have done about it, then you’re not going to be at fault.
“In rugby parlance, it’s a straight clash, possibly head to head, and no foul play has taken place. If you might have had time to stop, but couldn’t or didn’t, then you’re probably at fault, but mitigation may come into it.
“In rugby parlance, you’ve tried to do everything right with the tackle, but a sudden movement and dip in height meant you made accidental contact to the head. But contact, nonetheless and there may need to be a sanction of some sort. Though not necessarily red.
“If you’re doing 40mph in a 30 zone, you’re completely at fault and there can be no mitigation. In rugby terms, you’re leading with the shoulder, or an arm, in the first place and make contact to the head, even though that was completely unintended. So, the tackle was never going to be legal.
“It’s the process above that referees would use to make a judgement on decisions like the Tuilagi-North incident.”
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