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