A low ‘ooooooooohhh…’ echoed through pubs across Britain as England’s Courtney Lawes bulldozed France’s Jules Plisson in the final game of the RBS 6 Nations. Fly-half Plisson was winded, dazed and remarkably unhurt, but his team mates were clearly unhappy with Lawes’ tackle. They surrounded the England second row and shoved him as he stood up; Plisson had already passed the ball when Lawes hit him. Replays showed the full force of the monstrous collision whilst officials debated whether the tackle was high, late or even legal. They decided that it was acceptable and continued play, but were they right?
It was one of those hits that doesn’t get any less painful the more you watch it. From every angle, sped up, slowed down, it was brutal. It seemed as if Lawes had written the game himself, putting Plisson in the perfect position at the perfect time. Slowed down, you can see his head and neck fling from side to side as if he were a ragdoll, and it makes it plain to see how significant the risk of neck injuries in rugby is. Needless to say he was probably sore in the morning, but it could have been much worse; it’s likely that watching Mothers with rugby-playing children will be fretting with worry.
According to the IRB (International Rugby Board) the tackle was perfectly legal and the officials were right to deem it so. Yes, Plisson had already passed the ball, but he had done so momentarily before he was hit: Lawes was already moving at full throttle when he got to him and was fully committed to the tackle, he couldn’t have pulled out in time. By the time Plisson let go of the ball Lawes had already dropped his shoulder and put his head down, so he likely wouldn’t have seen the ball be released. Even if he had seen, by that point there was no way he could stop or change direction – he showed astute reading of and intuitive dedication to the game in his unstoppable, rhino-like charge down of his opponent. It could also be argued that it was marginally high – anyone who has played rugby will have heard ‘cheek to cheek’, meaning that a tackle should ideally be around hip level – but it wasn’t high enough to warrant being called a high tackle as it was below Plisson’s shoulders.
Since Lawes’ tackle the rules of rugby have been subjected to much criticism by those concerned for the safety of players. Yes, rugby is very physical and causes a significant number of injuries, but that is a risk that must be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to participate. Many players are attracted to the game because of just that – its physicality. It is no more dangerous now than it ever was, just because a lot of people witnessed one big tackle. In fact, rugby is safer now than it ever has been due to tightened procedures following injuries, ever-improving medical treatment and greater awareness of associated risks. Players are fully conscious of these risks yet they choose to play anyway, so why should the rules be changed to appease spectators concerned about safety?
Despite how severe it looked I must commend Lawes on his commitment and technique, and Plisson for getting up and carrying on. All rugby players know that although the game can appear brutal there is no malicious intent, just dedication to a team and love for a sport. The tension that built up in the last few minutes of the game epitomises the spirit of rugby and the passion of both players and supporters, and England were just one converted try away from winning the 6 Nations. What a game to end the tournament!
Just in case you missed it, however, a video link has been attached below, prepare to wince!