While the pundits, armchair experts, and riled-up fans everywhere have been discussing the controversial tackle on Andre Esterhuizen by Owen Farrell which happened in the dying moments of the game between England and South Africa on Saturday, we thought we’d give our input on the moment, because consistency with these rulings is key, and consistency has not been prevalent as of late.
Firstly, the question of whether it was a shoulder-charge or not is irrelevant – it clearly was – Farrell led with his shoulder, and attempted to swing his arms around once the impact had been made. While he tried to make the contact look more kosher, the fact is that it was a unanimous shoulder-charge.
Upon a second-look, referee Andrew Gardner said that he was happy with the ruling of no-penalty, citing that there was “enough of a wrap [of one arm] on the far-side” by Farrell. A loose arm snatching at a jersey after the impact had been made does not constitute a legal tackle.
How can wrapping the non-contact shoulder’s arm (in this case, Farrell’s left), while still clearly shoulder charging, be considered a fair tackle? Surely the most important arm to wrap is the one attached to the shoulder making the hit. While there are no specifics in World Rugby’s laws on which arm should wrap, not enforcing this nuance leaves a huge gap for players to exploit – according to this precedent, players can shoulder charge, while placing their ‘free’ arm on the other player’s back… or even better yet, attempt to.
Yes, judgements of the law differ based on the circumstances of the match, we get that. But having the opportunity for a second TMO viewing – which clearly showcases the infringement, even to someone who isn’t well-versed in the laws of rugby – and sticking with the original call, makes one question why video footage is even utilised. This Farrell incident does expose a flaw in the greater scheme of officiating. A TMO has greater vision, angles, and resources to make a game-changing decision retrospectively; so why not lean on them more when scenarios like these emerge? The TMO should be given the privilege to overrule the on-field ref when assistance is called upon, not merely advise them, because clearly that’s not working.