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Referee Wayne Barnes uses Ninja Turtles to clarify heavily-debated law

BY Grant Constable  ·  Friday Jan 29, 2021

The Laws of rugby have been under close scrutiny this past week after a collision between Cardiff Blues prop Dmitri Arhip and Scarlets No8 Sione Kalamafoni last Friday in the Guinness PRO14. 

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The incident saw Kalamafoni immediately collapse to the floor when the elbow of Arhip’s non ball carrying arm connected with his jaw. The Moldovan went unpunished in the match, and has since not been cited. 

Referee Wayne Barnes has provided a video in his Throw The Book series to help clarify the Law and explain what a ball carrier can, or cannot, do when bracing for contact. The Law is illustrated with the help of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys, with Michelangelo playing the role of the ball carrier and Raphael the tackler. 

“We often see a ball carrier when they’re about to be tackled, lower their height and brace themselves for contact,” he said.  

“Here we see Michelangelo bracing, ready for Raphael to tackle him using either his arm, his bicep, or even his shoulder to make sure that tackle is more difficult. That’s perfectly legal. 

“What Michaelangel can’t do is lift his arm just before the contact and smack Raphael in the head. That’s illegal, that’s foul play and that will probably mean a card to the Turtle here [the tackler]. 

“So feel free to drop your height, keep your arm next to your body, but don’t raise it at the last moment. And that’s why you’ll hear referees talking to their TMOs and saying ‘at the point of contact, where was the arm? Against the body or away from the body?’

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“What is fine though, is after that initial contact, with the arm against the body is to push the player away. So what we’re looking for, arm against the body on contact and then arm pushing away after contact. All of that is perfectly legal.”

The Moldovan’s carry has been a keenly discussed issue online this past week. Some see it as an undeniable red card, some see it as perfectly legal. 

The reason this has received such vastly different judgements is because there is no agreement as to whether Arhip’s non ball carrying arm was tucked into his body or whether he led with it. That subtle difference has caused people to sit on either side of the fence. 

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Barnes’ colleague Nigel Owens gave his perspective, but he was coy about providing his verdict. He instead refuted the claims that Kalamafoni’s tackle technique was a mitigating factor in this situation. Though the Tongan sought to make contact with Arhip’s upper body, the tackle was still likely to be legal. 

“All I’ll say is that you cannot take the tackler technique as part of the decision process. You have to judge has there been foul play by ball carrier, ie has he lead with the forearm? Whether you think the tackle is bad technique or not is irrelevant.”

A similar incident that caused a huge stir in 2014 was when Canadian Jebb Sinclair was red carded for leading with the elbow.

You can watch it below and read more about it here.

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