‘No grey area’: SANZAAR’s blunt message
THERE will be no let-up on players who make contact with the head of opponents, Super Rugby boss Andy Marinos has declared.
In the wake of the red card and subsequent three-week suspension handed to Queensland captain Scott Higginbotham last weekend, the message is clear that contact with the head remains unacceptable.
Kiwi referee Brendon Pickerill gave Higinbotham a straight red in just the ninth minute after his shoulder collided with the head of Rebels lock Matt Philip, leaving Queensland coach Brad Thorn to question whether it deserved a send-off.
"It's a tricky one, they (the officials) are trying their best but 70 minutes to go ... it's a big call," Thorn said after his side lost 45-19.
However, SANZAAR chief executive Marinos said all players and coaches are aware of the clamp down around head contact.
"You can't have any grey areas with this, it's pretty black and white and we'll continue to be vigilant," Marinos said.
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"It comes down to player welfare and safety.
"It really came into focus during last year's Super Rugby season, we saw numerous cards and suspensions particularly around contact with the head.
"We've got to stamp it out.
"There was a very clear message sent to players and coaches this pre-season.
"While sometimes viewers think 'it wasn't that bad', one doesn't know what the repercussions of a headknock can be. You could have delayed effects that can be very serious.
"We're going to continue to be direct and decisive in regards to protecting the head."
While Higginbotham's send-off received widespread criticism, Pickerill had no other choice under World Rugby's guidelines around contact with the head.
The backrower was facing the maximum penalty of six weeks for his offence, but after taking an early guilty plea, and the judiciary factoring in his clean record in previous seasons, the penalty was downgraded to three weeks.
SANZAAR's foul play review committee chairman Nigel Hampton QC ruled Higginbotham's tackle was "objectively dangerous".
"Having conducted a detailed review of all the available evidence, including all camera angles and additional evidence, including a statement from the player and submissions from his legal representative, Mark Martin QC, the foul play review committee upheld the red card under Law 9.13," Hampton said.
"This was an objectively dangerous tackle."