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Folau ban farce: It’s World Rugby that need to lift

Israel Folau. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Expert
28th June, 2018
338
5457 Reads

Israel Folau should ditch his demand for gay people to repent and instead chase a sorry from those that truly deserve to be accountable.

The Wallabies fullback was lambasted for his ‘gays to hell’ comment a few months ago, but given what’s happened over the last few days, Folau’s won a lot more support.

Banned for one match for athletically leaping into the air to catch a kick-off? What the F…olau?!

The audacity. Folau not once but twice out-jumped Peter O’Mahony during the third Test against Ireland in Sydney last Saturday, keeping his eyes on the ball and making no heavy contact with the Irish captain.

A penalty? No. A yellow card? Are you serious? Suspended? It’s beyond farcical.

World Rugby’s lawmakers and the judicial panel that banned Folau should be the ones repenting.

Not just to Folau, but to all rugby fans who are fuming over the string of crap calls from referees and match officials over the past month.

France fullback Benjamin Fall was sent off for not jumping for a high ball. Folau was sin-binned for jumping. Sam Cane and Ofa Tu’ungafasi whack Frenchman Remy Grosso, fracture his skull in two places, and no action is taken. Ludicrous.

Stay on the ground and you’re stuffed. Outjump your opposition and you’re stuffed: poor ‘ol Izzy can’t express himself on the field, nor off it.

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To think that Folau – who had eyes for the ball only – can contest in the air, and then in the split second he’s got to brace himself as he’s heading back to earth, not make any contact with another player is fanciful.

What do World Rugby want? If you’re going to have the temerity to try to win the ball in the air, then stick your hands on top of your head as soon as you start heading down?

In rugby’s many contests, there’s an inevitable tangle of arms and legs. It’s a contact sport.

It’s a tough, ferocious sport. Folau had no intent to drag O’Mahony down. The Irishman’s teammate that lifted him – CJ Stander – is more answerable to a charge of carelessness or recklessness.

Stander should’ve taken more responsibility for easing O’Mahony back to the ground safely.

Folau’s contact was minimal. Don’t think it’s possible to support the body weight of a big buddy in the forwards? No problem for Tendai Mtawarira (although as he’s better known as ‘The Beast’ it’s perhaps no surprise).

Ban lifting if anything. Don’t ruin the contest in the air. It’s hard enough judging where your own feet are going when you’re positioning yourself to be a jumper or lifter, let alone trying to predict – at high speed and often under fatigue – what your teammate is about to do.

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It’s why so many lifting tackles in rugby league go horribly wrong when there are two or more defenders involved. The case of Alex McKinnon – a talented, young NRL back-rower who became a paraplegic – is the most prominent recent instance and proves how quickly a twist of bodies can lead to such a tragic outcome.

To be clear: that’s an argument against lifting – involving more than one person – not leaping.

To put it another way: given Folau’s farcical ban, will players take the risk of jumping for the ball in an aerial contest? Even if you’ve got eyes for the ball, you’re not careless or reckless, that may not make you immune from punishment. Have you got to also compute the potential competence and effectiveness of the lifter?

O’Mahony’s landing – a 115kg body falling from close to two metres onto his shoulder blade – was cringeworthy. Of course no one wants to see that happen. Beauden Barrett’s impact close to his neck when he collided with Fall in Wellington was similarly hard to watch.

Israel Folau Australia Rugby Union Championship Bledisloe Cup Wallabies 2017

The Israel Folau suspension was not deserved (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

World Rugby are right to attempt to implement laws that minimise the risk of head and neck injuries. That they’ve come down so heavily on those that lift above the horizontal in tackles is testament to the seriousness in which they’re treating the issue. But to suck the life out of the contest for the ball in the air from kicks is absurd.

World Rugby can do worse than pore over footage from the AFL – a sport that’s full of contests for the ball in the air and a facet that makes fans marvel at the skill and bravery of the game’s elite.

Sure, there’s a few ugly collisions and some brutal injuries from marking contests. But for the most part, the players accept that there’s often a tangle of arms and legs and take responsibility for any mishaps that may eventuate.

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Is there lifting? No. Are you expected to go in with a decent level of care and respect? Yes. Do accidents happen? Yes.

Another example of lame lifting was during the second Test between Australia and Ireland in Melbourne when in a second-half lineout, one of the tourists’ lifters lost control of their jumper who crashed down on top of David Pocock.

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The Wallabies flanker gripped his head and neck in pain. But was a 110kg body crashing down on someone’s neck, due to the carelessness of the lifter and clearly dangerous, punished by World Rugby? No way.

The Cane-Tu’ungafasi comparison is still the most mind-boggling.

Belt a bloke from two angles across the cheekbone and that’s sweet for World Rugby. You know, these things happen in a contact sport. But don’t dare lock your gaze on a ball in the air and have the gall to also attempt to catch it.

Let the jumper and the lifter soak up their special moment without interruption. Maybe even allow them to hold the pose for a few seconds – as the jumper makes a theatrical flick of the wrists and point of the toes – and they soar high in the air like a duo from Swan Lake.

The crowd gasp in unison, briefly forgetting they’re at a game of rugby, but deeply immersed in the crescendo of emotion that can only be generated by uncontested kick-offs and lineouts.

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