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Practice what you preach

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

Duane Vermeulen was another star performer for the Springboks on Saturday. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

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 to his reputation south of the equator.

Not since our old mate Bryce Lawrence in the 2011 RWC 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

The Australian indeed resembled a two-bit actor fluffing his lines on opening night, and the reviews in the media have been fittingly unkind, apart from the English press that have mostly chosen not to comment at all, which in itself is damning.

In the northern hemisphere, silence on the illegality of the Farrell shoulder charge on Andre 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” Andre 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 its 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 the 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 110kgs of prime Klerksdorp beef does not feel pain.

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

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 was no TMO and Gardner had to make a decision in the blink of an eye, then fair enough if he got it wrong. 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 (Handre Pollard could well have missed the penalty shot at goal) the TMO went underutilised.

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.