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Ball-carriers, beware! Clampdown on the leading forearm/elbow continues

Scarlets centre Kieron Fonotia has been banned for three weeks.

SCARLETS CENTRE KIERON Fonotia is the latest player to face the consequences of leading into a tackle with his forearm/elbow.

The Samoan international was handed a three-week suspension at a disciplinary hearing today based on an incident during Scarlets’ win over the Ospreys last weekend.

Fonotia was not penalised for the offence during the game at Parc y Scarlets but was later cited and the disciplinary committee at today’s hearing has banned him for three weeks.

The committee felt Fonotia’s actions merited a mid-range entry point of six weeks, but that was reduced to three based on his “clean disciplinary record, his admission that his actions warranted a red card and the cooperation of both the player and his club.”

The incident in question can be seen below, with Fonotia appearing to lead into a tackle attempt from the Ospreys’ George North with his elbow.

Fonotia

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This nature of this incident, as well as the subsequent ban, should be familiar to Leinster fans after Edinburgh’s Pierre Schoeman was red carded at the RDS for something very similar.

Schoeman was suspended for four weeks following that offence – six reduced to four due to “mitigating circumstances, the player’s acceptance of the red card and behaviour throughout the hearing.”

The incident involving Schoeman can be seen below.

PS

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Dan Leavy was forced off the pitch with concussion due to Schoeman’s leading elbow/forearm, underlining exactly why this is such a hot area for referees at present.

North required a HIA after the incident involving Fonotia and while he did thankfully return to the pitch and complete the game, the danger is clear.

Going back to round two of the Guinness Pro14, there was a yellow card for Benetton’s Robert Barbieri for leading with the forearm/elbow.

Barbieri Yellow

Barbieri was only sin-binned for his actions against Cardiff Blues’ Tomos Williams, but the Pro14 later clarified that this should also have been a red card.

Clamping down on ball-carriers leading with the elbow is far from being solely a Pro14 focus.

There have been a handful of incidents like these two across the European leagues early this season after a directive was issued by World Rugby before the start of the 2018/19 campaign.

It’s understood that the clips distributed to referees included Jacob Stockdale’s yellow card against Australia, with World Rugby underlining that it should have been a red card.

Stock

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The deeply worrying issue of concussion in the sport is the motivation behind World Rugby directing referees to clamp down on instances of ball-carriers leading with the forearm/elbow more strictly than ever.

It’s likely that we will see further red cards and suspensions for similar incidents in the near future, as players are forced to adapt to stricter demands.

The tricky element of this directive is that many of these incidents do not appear to involve intent from the ball-carrier to strike with their elbow, rather instinctive reactions as they enter contact.

That is the challenge for ball-carriers – while they are tasked with beating defenders as often as possible, they will need to be more aware of how they are leading into the tackle.

Land an elbow into the neck/head area of the tackler with force and the referee is obliged to deliver a red card.

As ever, the challenge for referees, assistant referees and TMOs is finding consistency in this area. The sheer speed of professional rugby will ensure it’s a demanding task but anything that can reduce the risk of concussion will continue to be driven by World Rugby.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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