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'So many of you have asked' - Nigel Owens' offers take on hotly debated KO carry

By Ian Cameron

Trending on RugbyPass

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Over the weekend a carry by Cardiff Blues frontrow Dmitri Arhip against local rivals Scarlets in the PRO14 ignited a debate over what constitutes a legal ball-carry in rugby.


Arhip went unpunished for the collision that saw Scarlets back row Sione Kalamafoni knocked unconscious, with some claiming that the prop had used his forearm as weapon. Arhip, who is known within Welsh regional rugby for his huge upper body strength, ‘bounces’ 6’4, 117kg Kalamafoni, leaving the Tongan needing a HIA.

Crucially, the Moldovan prop’s arm was tucked into his chest going into contact, a measure some referees are using to determine whether or not the carry constitutes ‘leading with the arm’. However the collision with Kalamafoni was with his non-ball-carrying arm, which for some suggested aggravated an allegation of foul play.

Welsh rugby journo Simon Thomas believed it should have been punished with a red card but conceded that the majority found the carry to be fair. “I haven’t done a poll, but looking at my timeline, the verdict on the Arhip incident appears to be about 60-40 no red. And past and present players are pretty overwhelmingly of a view that there was no foul play. So, I accept I am in the minority on this one.”

Tom Shanklin summed up how many players viewed the hit: “Play on. Elbow was tucked when contact made, he braces himself and uses arm to push 8 away. Head to elbow rather than elbow to head.”


Former England fullback Ben Foden pointed out that Kalamafoni’s tackle technique was a mitigating factor.”For what it’s worth if the tackler didn’t come in and try and smash the ball carrier he wouldn’t have been knocked out – he chose the wrong tackle technique IMO. I’m not sure what people want the ball carrier to do while carrying the ball.”

Referee Nigel Owens then entered the chat, after numerous fans queried him about the collision. His answer to the tweet from RugbyPass columnist Andy Goode was a little ambiguous, pointing out that the tackler’s technique was ‘irrelevant’.

“So many of you have asked.

“All I’ll say is that you cannot take the tackler technique as part of the decision process. You have to judge has there been foul play by ball carrier, ie has he lead with the forearm? Whether you think the tackle is bad technique or not is irrelevant.”


Penalising ball carriers for ‘leading with the arm’ has always been a grey area in rugby. Canada’s Jebb Sinclair was infamously red-carded by referee Mike Fraser for running through Scotland’s Ruaridh Jackson in 2014. It cost Canada the shot at taking the lead going into the final minutes of the match and was a decision panned by many fans at the time.

Goode also posted a similar incident from 2016, albeit where the ball carrier’s arm wasn’t tucked when the contact occured. “The Dimitri Arhip carry is dividing opinion, here’s Alafoti Faosiliva being sent off in 2016 for a similar action in the carry. Thoughts on this?”

The margins are very fine on this one and it may surprise some that World Rugby’s Laws are not clear on the matter. Law 9, 23. states: “A ball-carrier is permitted to hand off an opponent provided excessive force is not used,” which is hardly explicit.

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PRO 14    

'So many of you have asked' - Nigel Owens' offers take on hotly debated KO carry