Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Who Has a Leg To Stand On?

Josh Strauss closes in on Conor Murray
Josh Strauss closes in on Conor Murray - pic © Al Ross/Novantae Photography

The targeting of players (particularly half-backs) by opposition teams is nothing new, yet the extent to which Connor Murray was faced with a barrage of late hits in the Glasgow vs Munster clash last weekend made his suffering all the more obvious to those watching. Murray reacted vociferously at the time and it seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest over in the Irish press where Murray and ex-Ireland 10 Ronan O’Gara have both suggested that outrage is the proper course of action as Glasgow were more or less deliberately out to injure him.

“More” if you’re Irish, “less” if you’re Scottish.

Throughout the game our resident whistler Ruaridh Campbell found at least ten instances where Murray was disrupted after distributing the ball, with Glasgow in particular targeting him on box kicks. This was the first. Wilson looks like he’s going for the ball, but what about Jonny Gray?

Conor Murray 1

If there was audio you’d hear Stuart Barnes saying it was fine. Here’s the next:

Glasgow Warriors vs Munster Full Match HD

This one on commentary Stuart Barnes said was late. Despite the sheer number of examples to pick from, only one was penalised, Strauss’ rather blatant attempt to tackle whilst still on the ground himself – which could actually have been a response to a gentle tap in the back from Conor Murray’s knee:

Glasgow Warriors vs Munster Full Match HD

If you can make out the times the full game is here. It’s worth watching in real time.

The law book itself is slightly ambiguous when it comes to the specifics of late tackles, simply stating that “A player must not tackle an opponent early, late or dangerously” (Law 10.4 (e)). However, the general consensus is that a late tackle is allowable if the tackler is already in the motions of the tackle, and the tackle is not otherwise illegal. In addition most of the post-box kick ones are covered by Law 10.4(o) which states “Late-charging the kicker: A player must not intentionally charge or obstruct an opponent who has just kicked the ball.”

So in essence it comes down to timing. If the kicker is not yet in the state of having “just” kicked the ball and you can’t reasonably pull out from your tackle, then it’s arguably still a tackle and you can follow through.

If each tackle is treated as an isolated incident, we feel only Strauss’ tackle can by law be considered a penalty – playing an opponent without the ball (whilst offside and on the ground) – yet that does not necessarily mean that no further action could have been taken on Glasgow. Munster fans, ROG and Murray himself seem to feel it’s not the timing but rather the targeting of the Murray’s exposed leg that is the problem. The first two above are clearly from a blind spot and they’d have to go through Murray’s torso to get near the ball, although it looks like they are aimed at the hip. Aiming a tackle at, say, the knee would clearly be dangerous play.

Gregor Townsend, as you would expect, deflected attention back to the referee – basically saying that they weren’t penalised, so they must have been okay.

Speaking to the BBC he said: “There was one occasion where we didn’t get the timing (of the tackle) right but (in) all the other occasions we put on legitimate pressure. The referee was there, I think he saw a couple of replays on the screen and said it was fine.”

The referee is well within his right to warn a team if they have made a number of late/dangerous tackles that are considered ‘marginal’. Therefore, if the number of incidents built up over a game, Glasgow would be at risk of a further penalty. The ref in this instance chose not to penalise Glasgow any further, a decision which is fairly justified. However on another day with a different referee, there may have been a different outcome.

Townsend also suggested that the attention focused on the Murray hits may have been a way to deflect attention from the medical team allowing him to play on when he seemed to have been out cold following a collision with Tim Swinson. Munster coach Jerry Flannery was pointing the hits out in Sky mid-game interviews before Murray had the HIA, so to them it was clearly an issue worth highlighting before that point.

What Townsend should be issuing is a flat out denial that Glasgow were sent out there with any intent to injure – but on the other hand you would hope that wouldn’t be necessary. Or does doing so give it too much credence?

For Munster fans though, this goes back a little further. Townsend’s name was dragged into a citing back in 2002 when clubs raised the citings themselves. He was playing for Castres, and their prop Ismaelia Lassissi was cited for biting Munster’s Peter Clohessy. Castres then stated Clohessy had been making racist comments that incited the chomping, counter-citing perhaps to try and mitigate their own punishment. The essential problem Munster fans of a certain vintage have with Toony is highlighted in this quote from another article on the matter:

The French club’s director, Patrick Alran, was particularly forceful, claiming that Castres’ Scottish out-half, Gregor Townsend, actually drew the abuse to the attention of referee, Tony Spreadbury. “During the game, Ismaella went to Gregor and said that rude words were being used against him,” said Alran.

Castres president, Pierre-Yves Revol, bluntly described Clohessy on French radio as “provocative and a cheat”. Just one snag. When contacted, neither Townsend nor Spreadbury could recall any such incident in the game.

In short, they don’t like that he didn’t distance himself from these allegations which were withdrawn shortly afterwards and before the hearing took place (full article here).

Looking further ahead, Townsend suggested it could be a build up to the Scotland Ireland game, the Irish media lobbing Warren Gatland style hand-grenades in the build up to the game because Joe Schmidt’s too nice.

“Maybe that’s why it’s in the media a lot. I know the Irish media picked it up a lot. Ireland play Scotland in the first game of the season. Ireland have an effective kicking game too so I’m sure Scotland will want to put pressure on that and maybe learn from what happened with Conor Murray at the weekend.”

Munster fans are never going to like this treatment of their player, just as Glasgow wouldn’t like similar attention to say, Finn Russell – which you can be sure will be coming his way, or the ruck clearout offences beyond the ball you often see Irish teams engage in.

It all comes down to disagreeing over what is counted as sporting, and the line where streetwise becomes cheating, or dangerous play. You are almost always going to see things your team’s way, but it’s healthy to have at least a little open mindedness to avoid becoming too one-eyed. Everyone wants the high ground but in almost every game there are examples of conduct that are one man’s “cheeky” and another man’s “penalty”.

Munster of course, have been good at this for years; but Glasgow are slowly catching up.

Additional reporting by Ruaridh Campbell, currently a Scottish Grade 6 referee

29 Responses

  1. So long as there isn’t genuinely late and dangerous tackles it’s all part of the game. I like that Glasgow were trying to get under Murrays skin, it worked and I hope Scotland do the same in the 6N. Murray can be prone to hot headedness and another game of being targeted like that might lead him to mistakes / outbursts. Bit of pot and kettle from the Irish, no one is better than them, apart from maybe NZ at “bending the rules”.

    Personally I think its all for the benefit of whatever referee it is for the first game and to distract everyone from their handling of his clear head injury.

  2. Good to see Munster and the Irish are talking about Glasgow and Scotland. They know we’re a threat again so bring it on!

  3. What I don’t understand is how the Irish teams persistently get away with their ruck clearouts when it is glaringly obvious to most spectators what they are doing?

    I used to think it was me looking through blue tinted spectacles, but I watch a lot of games with an English friend and he spots it too. Is it down to the head of the International Referee’s panel being Irish?

  4. OMG, Weegies! Made pact with English, rugby-hating wife. I stay in kitchen, cook the tea and get to see the second half on tv. Do I do that or stay in the kitchen and listen to 5Live Extra?

    1. Hopefully not as you would have missed an amazing half of rugby.

      Think Wilson, Reid, Strauss and Wilson must be pretty close to the Scotland team after tonight.

      Great performance.

      1. I made it to the living room for the second half. Warriors utterly outstanding tonight, all of them. Fantastic result, and the sounding of an alarm to their QF opponents, whoever they may be. Complete obliteration of that Tiger pack was a joy to behold.

      2. It was an outstanding performance by Glasgow. Heaps of pressure and they did the business – in SPADES!! A record thrashing of Leicester, and worse for them at home.

        Now that monkey is off the back, let’s see what can be done!

      1. Maybe if Wilson was also beside himself, that would explain him being eligible for two spots in the back row?

  5. Murray needs to stand deeper if he wants to avoids the attentions of Strauss and Co. I grew up watching John Jeffries and Fin Calder who could ruin any half-back’s day. I think it is great to see (legal) aggression from our loose forwards.

    1. To a man Glasgow were brilliant tonight. Think the pro 12 sides have more than shown that it’s the most progressive in terms of player and team development than any other league at the moment. Loved seeing the Young brothers and Cole get a wee spanking.

      1. And yet, according to the London rugby press, Dan Cole is the best TH in Europe and Ben Youngs should be Murray’s deputy with the Lions. Utter gash.

  6. We could be up against munster at thomond park for our QF , i would rather go to leinster or saracens to be honest , clermont would be a great spectacle of rugby though.

  7. Ireland have become the team I most dislike…overtaking England even…I’m sick of their cheating their chirping…but most of all being beaten by them.

    I’m hoping Glasgow’s tactics haven’t given them extra motivation.

    1. Yes, they have whinging down to a fine art. They won’t be happy until it’s illegal to tackle Sexton. And Murray now.

  8. Glasgow have identified that Murray takes 2 steps back from the ruck, in Possession, prior to box kicking. He is also a very effective box kicker. Why on earth should they not try to limit that effectiveness by targeting the weak point in his technique (the two steps).?

  9. Conor Murray is the likely Lions 9, a very good player & the fulcrum of Munster/Ireland, it would be stupid NOT to try & put him off his game. His (& Earls previously) whining for NO reason does Ireland & Munster a disservice.
    To the game – Glasgow were magnificent & can go anywhere with confidence.
    Finn Russell plays with a smile on his face………& is a definite wildcard option for the Lions.
    Wilson & Strauss were superb yesterday, BVC has a headache re backrow selection

    1. The biggest headache for BVC might be over as they all appear to have come through injury free. I think there has been a fear in some that they might not make the 6N, which will be the Lions showcase.

      Even Fagerson appears to have got himself a more robust scrum cap.Hope that helps with the question you asked in the munster blog !!1

  10. I am usually wrong but if a scrum half chooses to box kick with minimal protection round the side of the ruck, isn’t he, at least partly playing for the late tackle penalty?

  11. ………………..but (my “but”!) surely Myreside could not be seen as “too wee” if Edinburgh crowds revert to the around 3,000 gates typical prior to the flurry of excitement produced by their present Challenge Cup heroics? Glasgow have created a dedicated fan-base through a number of factors but especially through success on the field and playing a very attractive brand of rugby. Edinburgh are showing signs that they can match those achievements. If they do, and crowd-numbers expand appropriately, then perhaps EVENTUALLY Myreside will prove “too wee”

      1. Having got a new pitch in, is there scope now to expand the seating? I think IIRC there have been temporary arrangements in the past. It would be excellent to see it up to 10,000 capacity.

  12. Agree with everything you say AC

    Given the Dave Rennie & proposed Huw Jones signings Edinburgh must be due a couple a marquee signings.

  13. I agree with a couple of the posters above – Warriors seems to have gotten under the Irish skin and that can only be a good thing.

    Murray has a very effective box kicking game. He’s accurate and the ball seems to hang in the air for ages. To do this, he takes more time than other scrum halves to get himself set right – as a poster says above, he takes a couple of steps back so there is definately an opportunity there to disrupt his kick if you can get past the ruck guards….and for me, thats the crux of the issue. Munster choose not to guard, and instead prefer to get as many forwards as possible to chase the kick hard and put as much pressure as possible on the catcher – either under the ball, or by trying to turnover following the tackle. Great tactic and works well for them, however consequence of that is that Murray has less protection, therefore there is more opportunity for defending team to put pressure on his kick. Again, this is perfectly good tactic and now that it seems to have rattled Murray, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see other teams adopt this approach – particularly Toulouse.

    I’ve got no problem with Munster/Munster fans saying that putting pressure on Murray is a ‘tactic’…I totally agree. What really sticks in my craw is the accusation that the tactic is not to pressure the kick, but to injure the player – this is simply ridiculous. It’s insulting to the players and coaching staff, and has left me despairing for the mentality of some of the Irish fans, coaching staff, pundits and media.

    Anyhoo – look forward to the first ruck a week on Saturday and big Josh barging round the corner with Murray in his sights.

You might also like these:

Craig is joined by Jonny and Rory to look back at the disappointing end to Edinburgh's season and Glasgow's march towards the semi finals.
Gregor Townsend has named a largely experimental squad for the summer tour of the Americas. It's not a question of who misses out, but rather who is actually going, writes Rory.
Iain is joined by Jonny and John to discuss the penultimate round of URC fixtures as well as the recent Scottish Rugby Writers' Awards
Craig is joined by John on the injured reserve list to have a wee look at the URC action from the weekend.

Scottish Rugby News and Opinion