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'In a collision sport, accidents happen' - Connacht to appeal Papali'i red card

Meanwhile, Tom Farrell has been ruled out for at least six weeks due to a knee injury.

CONNACHT HEAD COACH Andy Friend has confirmed that the province will be appealing against the red card shown to back row Abraham Papali’i during last weekend’s Guinness Pro14 win over Zebre.

The New Zealander was sent off in the 57th minute, just six minutes after coming off the bench, when referee Dan Jones went to a TMO review and ruled that Papali’i had “led with his head forward” into a challenge on Zebre centre Tommaso Boni.

AP

Papali’i was also sent off on his Connacht debut against Munster back in August and subsequently served a three-week ban, with the province accepting that decision. 

However, this time, Connacht believe it was a harsh call against Papali’i and will appeal the decision at his disciplinary hearing this week, as Friend confirmed today.

“I thought it was a harsh red card,” said Friend. “If you go back and look, there’s a tackle on Tom Farrell at 47:56 on the match clock and, to me, it’s a far worse tackle.

“How do you not lead with the head? In order to make a tackle, you’ve got to put your head forward.

“I totally get the whole player welfare part and we need to protect players but in a collision sport, accidents happen. We saw that last year with Paddy McAllister on Marcell Coetzee in the Ulster game and common sense prevailed in the end on that one – you had two big men running and Paddy wasn’t trying to hit him on the head, nor is Marcell trying to get his head knocked off hitting him with his head, but in a collision sport, these things happen.

“We are going to appeal that and hopefully common sense prevails on Thursday and it’s thrown out.”

Connacht have been poring over video footage to find examples of similar incidents and Friend said they hope to get a disciplinary panel “who understand collision sports and that things like that do happen, that there was no malice or intent in it.”

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Friend confirmed that Connacht had already been working with Papali’i on his tackling technique since his arrival, with the 27-year-old having played rugby league up until last year.  

“We’re working really hard with him to drop that body height, he’s a big man anyway and those things take a while but with this one [against Zebre], he was just trying to grab the bloke.

abraham-papalii Papali'i was also red-carded on his Connacht debut but Friend feels the challenges were very different. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“You could see he was just trying to come forward and grab him. The Zebre player is allowed to do what he chooses to, and step and all the rest of it, but he certainly wasn’t trying to hit him with his head.

“The other thing that is disappointing is that all of a sudden you’ve got Abraham Papali’i – played four games for Connacht and two red cards. That doesn’t look good for that young man and he’s trying to build a career over here in Europe and before you know it, he becomes known as ‘the red card bloke.’

“I just don’t think that’s fair and we want to make sure we get a fair hearing with that. Hopefully, common sense prevails.” 

Meanwhile, Friend confirmed that centre Tom Farrell will be sidelined for at least six weeks due to the knee injury he suffered during the Zebre game.

It’s a blow for the province, with Farrell now looking certain to miss the opening two rounds of the Champions Cup next month. 

“He had a scan yesterday and it’s going to be lengthy that one, let’s say six weeks plus,” said Friend of Farrell. “We won’t see him for six weeks at least.”

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Murray Kinsella

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