Angus Gardner choked on Owen Farrell tackle

Owen Farrell flies into André Esterhuizen at Twickenham. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire via AP

Owen Farrell flies into André Esterhuizen at Twickenham. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire via AP

Published Nov 7, 2018


Social media has been awash with gallows humour after Angus Gardner corpsed on the Twickenham stage, to the potential high cost of the Springboks and his reputation south of the equator.

Not since our old mate Bryce Lawrence in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final in Wellington, or for that matter Clive Norling in the series decider with the All Blacks in Auckland in 1981, has a referee been so ruthlessly vilified.

In the northern hemisphere, silence on the illegality of the Farrell shoulder charge on André Esterhuizen has been deafening.

But in South Africa, there has been a roar of indignation and much applauding of Rassie Erasmus’ sarcastic suggestion that, going forward, his players mimic Farrell’s hit “because it is effective and apparently legal”.

But it is Erasmus’ follow-up act to his comment in the post-match press conference that brings to mind the adage “many a true word is spoken in jest”.

The coach set up a spoof at training in Paris on Monday where he had himself filmed “coaching” Esterhuizen to hit a tackle bag high and without the use of his arms.

Very funny, and well acted.

What is not funny is the consequences for the game if World Rugby does not break their silence on the matter and condemn Gardner and the tackle.

Player safety has been the top priority of the governing body for ages now, starting with the banning of the tip tackle a few years ago.

And then this year, there has been a big clampdown on the height of a tackle and on the wrapping of the arms around the ball-carrier.

Farrell’s tackle was high and armless, and thus contrary to everything World Rugby has been preaching from the pulpit.

The only reason the Farrell tackle did not cause serious injury is because Esterhuizen is built like a brick outhouse! This 110kg of prime Klerksdorp beef does not feel pain.

If World Rugby do not act, then the precedent has been set that this type of tackle is okay, and then maybe Erasmus coaching Esterhuizen how to emulate that tackle is not as silly as intended.

This video doing the rounds. It would be quite ironic if Rassie and @Springboks got into trouble for this, but those at "fault" last Saturday got off Scott-free. Apologies, don't know who to credit. @IOLsport

— Jacques vdWesthuyzen (@jacq_west) November 6, 2018

Incidentally, a consultant to World Rugby on player welfare, Dr Ross Tucker, tweeted this on the Farrell tackle: “If his shoulder struck the head... red and long ban. But because it didn’t, it is a level down, so penalty and yellow.”

And there is a second issue that compounds Gardner’s blunder – he had the technology at his fingertips to ensure the correct decision was made once the touch judge had given him a nudge that the tackle should be investigated.

The TMO could have watched the tackle a hundred times in slow motion and from innumerable camera angles, and given the referee an informed decision.

Instead, Gardner asked for it to be shown fleetingly on the big screen, and then made his hurried decision.

If we were in an age where there were no TMOs, and Gardner had to make a decision in the blink of an eye, then fair enough if he got it wrong.

Australian referee Angus Gardner should have allowed the TMO to scrutinise the Owen Farrell tackle from a number of angles.. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

But this is the digital age, and Gardner’s cardinal sin was that he did not use the tools at his disposal.

We have had to endure the overuse of TMOs in so many Super Rugby games this year, but when it came down to probably deciding the outcome of a Test match (Handré Pollard could well have missed the penalty shot at goal), the TMO went under-utilised.

Why did Gardner not refer the tackle beyond a big-screen replay? He bottled it. He choked. He did not have gumption to do his job properly.

He strayed from the World Rugby hymn sheet on player safety.

And for that, he should be censured.

The Mercury rugby writer Mike Greenaway.


The Mercury

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