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Ref Watch: 'Forget procedure, Ryno Pieterse left Romain Poite with no option'

By Paul Smith
Ryno Pieterese crashes into Maxime Lucu

Since Castre’s Ryno Pieterse left Bordeaux scrum-half Maxime Lucu in a crumpled heap with his brutal tackle during last weekend’s Top 14 encounter, there has been plenty of debate about the rights and wrongs of referee Romain Poite’s approach and decision.


The 23-year-old South African-born lock launched himself horizontally from some distance at top speed before crashing into Lucu – who had just kicked a high ball – at shoulder height.

While experienced former World Cup semi-final official Poite was off camera when the crushing impact took place, French TV’s ref mike picked up his immediate response.

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In the know with Michael Cheika

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In the know with Michael Cheika

Poite blasted the whistle and while running towards the fast-developing melee called out:

“No, no, it’s a straight red card, it’s a straight red card.”

This continued after his arrival at the scene as he was separating players: “Stop there whites (Bordeaux players). “It’s red, it’s a straight red, it’s a straight red, it’s red, it’s red, it’s red.”

From a refereeing perspective there are two aspects of this worthy of further discussion – whether the call was correct in law and the process by which the decision was arrived at.

While the ‘game’s gone soft’ brigade have not been entirely silent, it is fair to say the vast majority of opinions expressed have supported Poite, sympathised with Lucu and been grateful that the visitors’ no.9 was not really badly hurt.


But…if you watch frame by frame, it is possible to see how a small proportion of viewers have convinced themselves that Pieterse’s actions were within the laws.

His take-off point is some distance from the kicker, but once he opted for a full-pace horizontal dive he was beyond the point of no return. On this basis you could argue he was committed to the tackle and unable to pull out.

Similarly, his first point of contact is with the upper chest or shoulder, from where his upper arm and shoulder continue into Lucu’s head. This could be presented as evidence that red card mitigation was present.

In addition, Pieterse does make a token effort to wrap with his left arm.

However, anyone putting this hypothesis forward is in effect removing Pieterse’s need to have regard for the safety of others.


Since World Rugby became more safety conscious this has been at the heart of their approach to law-making, and is why players are now red carded based on outcome rather than intent.

That said, I challenge anyone watching the incident at full speed to convince me that Pieterse’s actions were entirely devoid of intent…

We also have to view Poite’s response through the wider prism of how French rugby now approaches player safety and also consider how the incident fitted within the context of the match.

Following four tragic incidents, two of which involved professional players, the FFR have placed more emphasis on safety than anywhere else in the world. For example, below the country’s fourth tier (Fédérale 1) all tackles must be below the waist while all rugby below level six is played with uncontested scrums. Tap tackles are illegal below level four.

While these specifics would have been far from Poite’s mind, his thinking will have been conditioned over time to establish a broad sense of what is and isn’t acceptable. It was this instinct that took over when he immediately called it as he saw it and brandished the red card.

Poite will have refereed Castres many times whereas I have only been there once, but it is fair to say that opponents know they have been in a game following a visit to the Stade Pierre Fabre.

Seemingly this contest had added spice due to the return of former Castres coach Christophe Urios and perhaps as a result the hour prior to Pieterse’s tackle had plenty of niggle.

Poite will therefore have been ultra-alert for any possible flashpoints, and this also provides some explanation of his immediate from-the-gut reaction.

Neither touch judge therefore had any opportunity to input to the red card although the nearside official did flag for foul play.

Similarly, Poite only consulted the TMO after the event to confirm that the mark for the penalty was correct.

In doing this he backed his own judgement, but potentially exposed himself to a level of risk which a slower, more inclusive approach via the team of four would have eliminated.

However, by making Bordeaux aware that the ultimate sanction was about to be handed out, Poite may well have prevented mass retaliation and multiple sendings off.

For me this was a superb piece of management on the hoof and one of those instances where the outcome justified the means.

Twitter will almost certainly disagree, but sometimes there is simply no time for procedure and in this instance Ryno Pieterse left Romain Poite with no option.


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