Rugby Union

Courtney Lawes hit on Jules Plisson: was it legal?

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The Six Nations advertises itself as "rugby's greatest championship", and while there can be many significant arguments made to corroborate this statement, it is not the final day shootout, the tries or exemplary pieces of skill being talked a week since the final whistle blew; it is a tackle many regard as questionable at best.

Ireland's heroic defensive displays, Wales' impressive victory over the eventual back-to-back champions and a final day three-way-championship-shootout have all been eclipsed by this one incident.  The tackle in question happened in the 25th minute of England's potential title winning showdown versus their French counterparts.

Those who think that Courtney Lawes did no wrong describe the tackle as a huge hit and, one he was fully entitled to make.  Even his most staunchly supportive fan will concede that he was slightly late, but they will argue that he was a fraction of a second late and was committed to the tackle so it was not foul play.

An article written by the Daily Mail's journalist Jeff Powell has condemned the tackle and the praise and support it has received.  He has no intention of trying to persuade the rugby fans that read his column to change their opinions and the use of phrases such as, "rugby's dinosaurs", and "rugby snobs", in the opening paragraph are crystal clear proof of this.

He goes on to compare the tackle to a common assault, "if it had happened in a street outside the stadium police may well have been called to investigate if there were grounds for an assault charge".  He questions the legality of the tackle and seems to indicate that this is why parents discourage their children from playing a sport supposedly for thugs played by gentlemen.

Another column, by Conor O'Leary, on the website also questions the legality of the tackle. He refers to the World Rugby laws, specifically Law 10.4.j, which states:

"Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player’s feet are still off the ground such that the player’s head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play."

It is irrefutable that Jules Plisson's head does in fact make contact with the ground before the rest of his body. However, bearing in mind that Lawes is six feet seven inches, and over 18 stone, the impact alone of him hitting a stationary, oblivious Plisson at speed would knock him, and most other men, off their feet.

Lawes' attempts to wrap his arms around Plisson, like he should. The momentum of such an impact, at that velocity, result in Plisson's awkward landing. It was not a late tackle. Therefore, it was a completely legal hit.

Also, take into account that Nigel Owens, rugby's equivalent of Pierluigi Collina, was the referee and he rarely makes a mistake. The television match official also reviewed the incident and refused to penalise Lawes.

The citing commissioner for the match also declined to punish Lawes after the French Rugby Federation attempted to have a retrospective action taken against the tackle. Former professionals Scott Quinnell, Lewis Moody and Matt Dawson, among others, have all taken to social media to publicly support Lawes.

The two articles mentioned previously do raise a very important issue though, especially considering player welfare is such a hot topic. The tackle was deemed fair, both at the time and retrospectively. The issue, however, is whether a tackle like this should be legal or not.

It is impossible for Lawes to pull out of the tackle once the ball has left Plisson's hands, but that does not mean that serious injuries could result from these kind of tackles. The French no.10 was completely blindsided by a man that is much larger than him and it resulted in a ferocious impact.

The slow-motion replays of the incident overemphasise the lateness, the impact and the unfortunate landing of the tackle. There was nothing malicious about the tackle as Lawes did everything within the laws of the game. Incidents like this happens in contact sports and many regard it as part and parcel of playing such a game.

Be that as it may, World Rugby have started implementing new measures to encourage higher standards in the player welfare area.  With regard to that, surely they must take a look at tweaking the laws as whiplash, concussion and even broken bones are very possible outcomes.

Was Courtney Lawes' tackle legal? Yes, absolutely. Was it safe? Absolutely not.

Rugby fans - what did you make of this controversial tackle? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Rugby Union
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