Rugby tackles stereotypes and the need for consistency

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 25 September 2019, 9:05PM

Let’s talk about dangerous tackles in rugby. Nobody wants them. We all agree that the perpetrators should be duly punished as a deterrence measure and to promote player safety. If those perpetrators are Samoan players, let them face the music.

What we saw on Tuesday night when Manu Samoa opened their Rugby World Cup campaign against Russia was very disturbing. It was a sad reminder of the negative attitude our rugby teams have been fighting against for years, when it comes to this area of the game.

Let me explain. The fact is that tackling and hard tackling is part of Samoan rugby. And sometimes our players make mistakes when they cannot control their aggression.

But everyone makes dangerous tackles. Not just Pacific teams. 

The question is, are they treated equally by the officials? The answer is an emphatic no.

Let’s think back to Tuesday night. When a tackle was implemented by a Samoan player, which started around the chest area but slid up and made contact with the head, red cards were quickly offered up by the referee and officials as an option. People could be forgiven for thinking they were being dictated to by TV commentators who were unashamedly biased, screaming for Samoan blood.

Now don’t get us wrong; if a Samoan player breaks the rule and a red card is warranted, so be it. Rules are rules and they should be followed otherwise everybody should forget them. On Tuesday night, there were two instances where the red card was a possibility.

The first instance involved midfielder Rey Lee Lo, the second one involved hooker Motu Matu’u. We agree that the tackles were dangerous when both players at different times threw themselves at the Russian fullback Vasily Artemyev. You saw it, we all saw it. Both Lee Lo and Matu’u were overcommitted and silly. Lee Lo’s hit slid up and made contact with the head while Matu’u’s attempt was reckless and unnecessary to say the least.

After discussions among the officials at length about the possibility of red cards, fortunately for Samoa, both players were sent off with yellow cards. Artemyev on the other hand proved to be a very tough customer and from his body language, didn’t appear affected by the tackles at all.

Now that was the first half. 

In the second stanza, the shoe changed foot. Afaesetiti Amosa was on his way to score a try when Russia’s Kirill Gotvostev caught him with an outright clothesline-swinging arm. It landed on Amosa’s face and stopped him on his track. It was as clear as day that the Russian made no attempt to tackle according to the rules.

But here is the real kicker. Without going through the entire rulebook, as it was applied to Lee Lo and Matu’u with threats of the red card and so forth, Gotvostev was given a yellow card. Instantly. 

The commentators were dead silent on the red card call.

To make matters worse, we had to watch on as Amosa, a young man who had shown exceptional form for the Manu Samoa in the lead up to the World Cup, suffered in what must have been agonizing pain. He was placed on a stretcher and taken off the field. The saddest part is that while Gotvostev continues his World Cup journey, we cannot say the same for Amosa. 

His dream of giving his all to make his family and country proud is over.

Now rugby is a tough sport and injuries happen. The words of the legendary Tana Umaga when he said “we’re not playing tiddlywinks here mate” immediately come to mind. 

But that’s not what is bothersome.

What we find unacceptable is that the game against Russia again highlighted the general stereotype towards Pacific teams when it comes to tackling. It’s the same attitude we saw in Reece Hodge’s high shot on Fiji’s Peceli Yato, which went unpunished when Fiji opened their World Cup campaign against Australia.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that the instances were treated very differently. Which is sad. You would think that we are in a modern era of rugby, where stereotypes are a thing of the past and equal treatment is afforded to everyone. This is not what is happening. As if it is not difficult enough for teams like Samoa and other small countries to try and compete. This is woeful.

How long more do teams from this part of the world have to put up with this?

Interestingly enough, World Rugby yesterday issued a statement about the issue of refereeing decisions.

Reads part of the statement: “Elite match officials are required to make decisions in complex, high-pressure situations and there have been initial challenges with the use of technology and team communication, which have impacted decision-making.

“These are already being addressed by the team of 23 match officials to enhance consistency. Given this proactive approach, a strong team ethic and a superb support structure, World Rugby has every confidence in the team.”

Confidence in the refereeing team? Who are they kidding?

Well at least World Rugby has confidence in their team because from where we stand, we don’t. We see inconsistency everywhere and it appears that there are different rules for different folks.

The worry is that decisions like the ones made in the Russia game could cost us next time, especially as it will only get tougher from here for the Manu Samoa with Scotland, Japan and Ireland up next.

That said, congratulations to the Manu Samoa for securing that first win. It was ugly at times and there are lots to improve on but a win – with a bonus point – is sure better than a loss.

It’s especially sweet when you had to play with 13 players against a full 15-side Russian team, and all the officials who might as well have declared their allegiance to the opponent. 

But then what’s new in the rugby world?

Have a wonderful Thursday Samoa, God bless!   

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 25 September 2019, 9:05PM
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