How to start a fight in a rugby match

Sat, Jul 4, 2009, Posted by   print

Laws & Refereeing, Video

As a player, starting a fight in rugby is pretty easy. You can throw a boot or two at the opposition in the ruck. You can time your tackle just right to punish a ball carrier just after he passes. Or maybe just pull down the opposition jumper in the line-out.

As a full-contact game that attracts passionate participants, rugby lends itself to fighting and skirmishes, especially since so many of us players accept incidental shoves and hits as just a normal part of game play. Even at the elite levels, this ‘hand-bagging’ is very common and usually overlooked by match officials.

However, one of the most important jobs of a rugby referee is to keep the players on the pitch safe and manage what is usually boils down blowhards trying to slow down the game.

Keeping these minor incidents in check is what prevents and all-out brawl.

To control fighting in a match, a referee has to use his best judgement to decide when hand-bagging becomes something more sinister and dangerous. Ejecting a player for 10 minutes (yellow card) or the entire match (red card, with likely disciplinary action after the match) is usually sufficient to keep players from both teams in check.

For example, by giving Schalk Burger a yellow card just 30 seconds into the 2nd Lions test match last week, Christophe Berdos set an important precedent for the rest of the match. Burger should have been red-carded, and received an 8-week ban afterwards, but importantly the players knew what was expected of them from the referee.

In the 3rd Lions test match, referee Stuart Dickinson tried to control the match with a yellow card to Simon Shaw late in the first half. This card was warranted, despite the rather unintentional and incidental nature of the infraction.

However, as South Africa slipped further behind on the score board, their frustration with an invigorated Lions side showed through on many occasions with a similar pattern: after a stoppage in play, a South African player would grab a Lion and throw them to the pitch. Heinrich Brüssow showed this in poor fashion at least twice by slamming Martyn Williams to the ground (after picking him up from a prone position) and throwing Mike Phillips to the ground, from behind, by his shirt-collar (see video above).

These acts should have been sorted immediately with yellow and red cards, but Dickinson failed to act forcefully. In the case of slamming Williams to the turf, nothing was done. For Phillips, only a penalty.

This lack of appropriate disciplinary action on the pitch by the referee endangers the players and sets a terrible example for a sport that is trying to break into the mainstream in many countries including Canada and the USA.

Considering the world stage on which this match was played, such low-class behavior and is sure to steer parents of prospective new rugby players towards safer sports.

For once, I guess I am happy that less than 1% of North Americans will ever see that match.

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9 Responses to “How to start a fight in a rugby match”

  1. Von Allan says:

    While I never excuse illegal behaviour during a game, I would still
    love to see the match. Living in Canada means that top level rugby
    is something I’m pretty much locked out of (unless, of course, I
    want to go via pay per view or some such). It’s been a frustrating
    experience to know that the Lions South African tour is “out there”
    and yet be only able to follow it in bits and pieces through blogs
    and newspaper websites. A very good case in point was the first
    Lions/Springboks Test – while that game was being aired live
    overseas, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) chose to air
    an all day special on the growth of grass roots soccer (football)
    in Canada. This special (called Soccer Day in Canada) featured
    children and amateurs playing the game and I’m all for that. But a
    truly world class rugby game was taking place at the same time and
    I would have much preferred to watch that then SDiC. All that said,
    I dearly hope to see the three Lions/Springboks games in their
    entirety at some point. Rugby is a beautiful game and I’d rather
    trust the intelligence of North American fans to realize that a
    badly officiated game is just that – one badly officiated game. It
    doesn’t tarnish the entire sport.

  2. Vic says:

    As a Canadian expat in America, I feel your pain. Even now I am watching the live matches on mediazone.com. $100 USD per year for most internationals live and on demand. Hard to beat that.

  3. Vic says:

    Ooof. Some passionate comments on youtube for this video. I had to remove some (racist, offensive, etc..).

  4. TheColonel says:

    I’ll have to say that although the throw to the ground was out of
    line, that the fall itself looked precariously like ‘football
    acting’. The South Africans have always been a little rough around
    the edges, and I don’t think that’s a secret. In some of the
    articles I have read, there seems to be a fine line between the ref
    ‘strangling’ the game by calling it too tightly, and doing just
    enough to keep the thugs in their cage.

  5. Vic says:

    i never heard of a yellow card strangling a match, but certainly too many penalties sucks ass.

  6. Josh Houston says:

    I understand why referees at the international level don’t hand out
    yellows for acts such as the ones committed by Brussow. No injury
    resulted in his actions and he didn’t commit one of the cardinal
    sins (eye gouging, kicking/stomping or punching). Giving a yellow
    changes the match and no referee wants to have that on their
    conscience when the card can be questioned. Simon Shaw caused an
    injury by dropping all of his weight on poor Fouris DuPreez with
    his knees. And don’t suggest it was incidental, Shaw is 35 and well
    seasoned. He knew exactly what he was doing. In a sport where
    there’s a great deal of contact, you have to allow a few dust ups
    hear and there. It happens in American football all the time. Hell,
    they let guys fight in hockey. None of these sports have a shortage
    of youth players and I seriously doubt a few harmless incidents is
    going to affect youth rugby.

  7. Doyler says:

    When you play South Africa you have to expect and be prepared for
    their bullying tactics. I am Irish and I really love it when we
    play them, I think it is a bigger physical test than playing any
    other international side. With all the skill in the world on your
    side you will always be pulled down into a war of attrition when
    playing the Boks, they play hard and they try to intimidate – all
    you can do is front up to it, give it straight back. I don’t blame
    Mike Phillips for getting up off the ground and having a go, that’s
    what he had to do, you can’t allow the boks to get away with their
    bullying and you also can’t hide behind the ref and look for him to
    bin people just for pushing and shoving.

  8. Johann T says:

    Hi , This is Johann from Melbourne Australia. I have a blog site up
    for Strength Coaching focusing on Rugby Strength Training amongst
    many things. Would you be interested in running one of my articles
    on your site or having a link to my site from the Rugby Blog. An
    example article could be – "http://www.strengthtrainingchronicles.com/2009/09/as-tri-nations-2009-draws-to-end.html">
    I also have a free ebook on offer for rugby strength training.
    Looking forward to hearing from you, Johann

  9. KAP says:

    I’m a south African and burger should be ban for life its
    not the first time he’s done this and it won’t be the last.

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