More pandemonium in the rugby world. No one knows any more. Including the journos. You promise yourself you won’t get involved this time, then, before you know it, 500 words have tumbled out just like that. Damn it. Next week you’ll talk about something else, something happy. (What about that Jersey try, eh!) But you know it’ll probably be the same. Another weekend, another incident, more pandemonium and arguments and above it all that whiff of self-righteousness that your view is the only one and everybody else can fuck off.
So here we go again.
If the Farrell Affair showed us anything, it’s that rugby’s culture has changed, which is what the legislators wanted, but the legislators haven’t caught up with their own meddling, because what Farrell did is still legal.
Yes, yes, everyone keeps going on about his ‘arms’, but that’s a red herring. His arms are fine. If his right forearm had been tucked in between his midriff and Esterhuizen’s, then it would have been a body check (and penalty), but both arms were on the outside of the collision, the left one in the correct place and the right on its way. At best it’s a penalty 49% of the time.
This is really about the collision. The ‘big hit’ to the upper body, that narcotic league introduced to innocent little union when she stepped into the big bad world of professional practice, is no longer fashionable. On balance, that’s a good thing, because they’re all accidents waiting to happen. Keep your big hits low.
In this case, it’s the violence of the collision that people notice first, the whiplash, the fact that Farrell can’t even grasp for the player he’s tackled before he’s ricocheted off into space. This squeamishness is new, because his ‘hit’ would have been wildly celebrated only two or three years ago.
Next, people try to rationalise their misgivings with technical stuff like ‘arms’, frantically trying to identify what it is they find so reprehensible about the incident then working backwards from there. ‘Ooooo!’ they seethe when first they see it. They reach for the ‘red’ word, but the replays show his tackle was below the line of the shoulders. That’s not even a penalty! Something else then! His arms! Yes! Look at his arms! Ref! His arms!
It’s not about the arms. The issue is it’s a ‘big hit’, and rugby is going off those. So rugby needs to make them illegal and so far rugby hasn’t. Instead, our overlords have given us the current climate with their irresponsible, inflammatory directives to paint everything red. Farrell’s tackle is the sort of ‘hit’ to the upper body that World Rugby should be making illegal but haven’t (yet), because they’ve bottled it, settling for the red-card wild west instead.
Drop the red cards, drop the big-hit height and all of this would go away. As it is, none of us knows anything any more. We’re stumbling in darkness. With just a hint of red.
Michael Aylwin’s novel about the future of sport, Ivon, is out now https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ivon-Michael-Aylwin/dp/1910453463