World Rugby’s new directives for punishing high tackles come into effect last week, increasing the severity of the punishment for reckless high tackles, whose minimum sanction is a yellow card and maximum a red, fortified with increases in the accompanying bans.
The force has certainly been felt locally. As the West Asia Premiership returned after a brief hiatus at the weekend, Bahrain held on for a crucial 22-19 victory at The Sevens after captain Adam Wallace was sent off for a dangerously high shoulder tackle late on.
In the UAE Conference clash between Dubai Wasps and Abu Dhabi Saracens 2nds, meanwhile, three players were dismissed by the referee – all for high tackles.
Although the majority of clubs and players understan
d the changes, the fact that rugby in the UAE is an amateur sport has them fearing for the future.
“I think that that theory behind the law is sensible and players need to look after each other on the pitch as head knocks are sadly becoming increasingly common in the game,” said Dragons skipper and scrum-half Ross Samson.
“We lost two players in the last two seasons to concussion issues – Taif Delamie (ex-captain) and Jonny MacDonald (now assistant coach) so we are more sympathetic to it than anyone.
“The risk for this league is that the playing base is relatively small and lengthy bans for a straight red card could seriously impact teams’ ability to field a competitive team.
“For example, the Bahrain captain got a red card at the weekend – which was probably a fair call if we go by the letter of the new directives but there was no malice or intent to hurt our player so I feel a six-week ban would be overkill and Bahrain could potentially be without their best player and captain for the rest of the season. For me the potential punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
“As players all we want is consistency from the referees week to week. Only time will tell but from the other captains’ feedback from the weekend some refs will be more willing to brandish the red card than others.”
For his part, Bahrain coach Louie Tonkin had no complaints with Wallace’s sending off.
He said: “The red was 100 per cent justified. With the new amendments to the law last week, it was 100 per cent a red card.”
Wasps had two players dismissed in their 24-5 defeat at Sarries, a result later changed to a 20-0 win in their favour due to Sarries fielding ineligible players.
And the new rules have them concerned.
Wasps chairman Ben Rothwell said: “Obviously we understand the pressure refs are coming under from UAE Rugby Federation and World Rugby but it’ll have a serious impact on the game out here as games will be reduced to ridiculous numbers.
Either side would have been worthy of victory at The Sevens last night in a free-flowing battle that swayed back and forth.
As it was, the 13-man visitors survived the late dismissal of their captain Adam Wallace to cling onto the narrowest of victories, 22-19, one which moves them above Dragons and into third place in the West Asia Premiership.
For impressive home fly-half Dan Bell, defeat was all the more excruciating as it came against his former team.
“It’s my old team and I’ve got a few mates there, so it’s even worse to lose, it’s a little harder to take,” he said.
“It was a good game but it’s not nice when you put all that effort in and come so close. The most frustrating thing was that it was so close and we played really well.
“There’s lots of positives we can take from today. We lost by three, we could easily have won by three. I think if either side had won there wouldn’t have been many complaints.”
Former team-mate Wallace, who otherwise had an outstanding game in the centre for Bahrain, was thankful his late shoulder tackle on flying UAE full-back Imad Reyal had no lasting consequence.
“I did think a little bit that I might have cost the team victory,” he said.
“I have faith in our pattern and structure though and we knew what we had to do to close it out, and we held on.”
Bahrain had blitzed Dragons 51-10 in the reverse fixture on the opening day of the season. No-one was expecting the same performance and it was the hosts who opened the scoring after 15 minutes in fine style.
Tenacious flanker Matt Henry did superbly to steal ball in midfield to set the platform. From there former Scotland 7s scrum-half Ross Samson jinked his way through the Bahrain defence, committed the last defender and sent Reyal strolling over.
It proved to be the game’s benchmark.
After the excellent Luke Radley reduced the arrears with a penalty, the visitors took the lead through Wallace’s try.
After fielding a clearance kick, winger Deina Morete launched a counter-attack, taking the ball from Wallace who continued his run and was on hand to take a return pass, and he had enough strength hold off a tackler to get to the line for a superb score. Radley brilliantly converted from the touchline.
Another fine counter saw Henry Paul’s side retake the lead minutes after the restart, Bell made the yards and offloaded to Sammy Ewing who streaked in, Bell’s excellent conversion making it 12-10 to the hosts.
The lead lasted just a few minutes though, Radley and Wallace again instrumental as Lewis Chance crossed the whitewash.
Powerful Dragons prop Dan Minks barged over in the 55th minute to give the game its fourth lead change as Paul’s men led 19-15.
Just as it looked like they might hold out, however, Dragons were cruelly slain. Their defence held out initially but an overlap eventually saw Arron Dalgarno burrow over with four minutes remaining.
Radley again knocked over a brilliant conversion to give Bahrain a three-point lead and there was plenty of time for more drama.
Wallace saw red while replacement Joel Lewis was also sin-binned. Dragons inched closer and closer into Bahrain territory but Louie Tonkin’s men defended for their lives, leaving their coach mightily relieved.
“I’m absolutely delighted with the win. We got let off the hook at the end. I thought they were going to steal it,” he said.
“If I didn’t have a bald head already, I’d have one now. The boys defended for their lives the last five minutes. It could have gone either way. I’m very happy with the boys’ character.”
Mike McFarlane’s men came up against a much-improved Dubai Hurricanes at Zayed Sports City, who promoted Mike Wernham from forwards coach to head coach during the Christmas break.
Despite remaining unbeaten as the West Asia Premiership resumed, Quins have certainly been tested this season. They were 15-0 down to Bahrain in the last game before Christmas before coming back to sneak a 17-15 victory.
They also edged Dragons 31-30 in November and were held 23-23 at home by Doha at the end of October.
McFarlane was pleased with maintaining the momentum, even if his players were left disappointed.
“The boys are frustrated but came across a strong Canes team,” said McFarlane.
“I think we lacked a bit of composure at times and have some areas to work on but we got the win which keeps us unbeaten this season and also preserves our home record.
“The boys are disappointed but only because they set themselves such high standards. I think Canes will really trouble teams in the remaining fixtures and I wish Mike all the best.”
Wernham said his side put in a performance worthy of the Canes jersey.
“Following the result and performance from Doha we were looking for a response from the squad,” he said.
“Before the match I don’t think anyone would have given us a chance against this strong Quins squad which are thoroughly deserving of being top of the league.
“I think we gave a much better account of what Hurricanes are all about. We’re leaving thinking we could have definitely won. We put up a few fights and are leaving with a losing bonus point.
“I’m delighted to see us moving on from the Doha game. We’ve got a lot more work to do and what we’re looking at now is the next level from every player, to be competing in every minute and every second of every game.
“What we’ve got ahead of us is a big task and we want to be bullish and for every player to have a different mindset. It won’t come overnight but we have a lot of talent, great attitudes and the squad continue to improve. We’re never pleased to lose but we’re taking steps forward.”