The Roar
The Roar


Leading with the forearm - the new tip tackle?

It's time for a serious shake up in south African rugby, and Super Rugby in general. (AFP PHOTO / Michael Bradley)
Roar Guru
4th October, 2013
1345 Reads

As we approach what is sure to be another epic and brutal clash between the world’s two best rugby teams it is relevant to ask whether or not there will be any refereeing consistency between this game and the last encounter which many viewed as a non-contest.

As has been widely discussed Springboks rake, Bismarck Du Plessis, was red carded after receiving two yellows.

The first for an innocuous tackle which was harshly adjudged as “dangerous” by referee Romain Poite and the second for leading with the elbow in the tackle and catching Liam Messam in the throat.

I won’t dwell on the legalities of either incident because everyone and their dog had a different opinion.

All Black coach, Steve Hansen, even suggested in the media, that the second incident may have deserved a red card all by itself.

But, in what is shaping to be a hugely physical contest, there has to be a discussion on how the referee (Nigel Owens) will view dangerous play this game, especially about the new tip tackle – ‘leading with the forearm’.

Any player worth their salt knows that a good way to get forward momentum in the tackle is to put the tackler in an awkward position by making them avoid your forearm.

I’ve seen Liam Messam do it numerous times before to good effect.

You’re not actually striking the tackler in any way – it’s just their face in the way, kind of like the rugby equivalent of beating up your younger brother by unintentionally walking into him with your arms swinging.


However, just like an unintentional beating, if you have ever taken a forearm to the throat before then you will know how dangerous leading with the forearm actually is.

So, the two questions here are:

  • How have the IRB instructed the referees to deal with a leading forearm?
  • How are the judicial officers going to deal with it when it comes up next?

We’ve already seen some inconsistencies in this area.

Earlier this week, Graham Henry (adviser to the Pumas) got into hot water by laying it on the referees and the judicial process.

In reference to the one-week ban of Springboks lock Flip van der Merwe (who was also caught leading with the forearm) he stated:

“Well, they (the judiciary) are totally inconsistent just like the refereeing – but I should move on.”

He then went on to say that refereeing “was a weakness in the game today”.


Henry has transitioned to more of an elder statesman in the rugby world now, so he probably thinks he can get away with a bit more criticism, but he still has a point.

How does Van Der Merwe get a one-week ban for leading with the forearm and Du Plessis receive no ban for the same action?

Is it something to do with the fact that The Rugby Championship referees are appointed by the IRB and the judicial personnel are appointed and administered by SANZAR or was the lack of any ban just to make up for Romain Poite’s initial mistake?

The whole mess has put the spotlight on the IRB and inadvertently put a lot of pressure on Nigel Owens.

The coming game is sure to be a powderkeg. Both Heyneke Meyer and Janie Du Plessis have both come out this week and said that Bismarck is not going to change his game – does that mean continuing to lead with the forearm?

As good as he is, he may be considered a liability if he can’t keep his arms down. And what of all the other players that use this tactic…?

Some people have suggested that the red card be done away with and instead use an increasing time ban – 10 minutes for the first yellow card, 20 for the second and so on.

But whatever means of punishment you use, the referee has to be able to fairly and consistently apply it.


Nigel Owens’ reffing overview states that he is a good communicator, he lays down the law early and is strong on poor discipline, so does the precedent set in the last few weeks mean we are seeing the end of this kind of fend?

Only time will tell. The IRB and refs have done a fairly good job of lessening the impact of tip tackles and perhaps they are taking a ‘one incident at a time’ approach.

Here’s hoping that Owens and the IRB in general can figure out a way to deal with the pressure and intensity of a match like the one coming up so we don’t get a case of what happened in the last game.