Leicester interim head coach Geordan Murphy believes Will Spencer’s red card might emerge as a watershed moment in rugby’s drive to eradicate dangerous tackles to the head.
Murphy has revised his initial opinion that the decision to dismiss Spencer, pictured, for a high challenge on Tommy Taylor in Sunday’s defeat at Wasps is evidence that rugby has “gone too politically correct”.
A disciplinary hearing on Tuesday night approved the red card and gave Spencer a four-week suspension, insisting it was a “reckless tackle that resulted in direct, forceful contact to the head”.
The incident has divided opinion among those who view it as evidence of rugby being stripped of its confrontational appeal and the opposing camp who believe every effort must be taken to protect the players. Concussion’s pivotal moment arrived during the British and Irish Lions’ third Test against Australia in 2013 when George Smith was knocked out, wobbled off the pitch and then returned to the field.
Murphy believes Sunday’s sending-off could prove equally transformative.
“The decision made and the course of the incident have been massively influential across the whole world of rugby. It’s polarising,” Murphy said. “I’ve had messages from both sides of the debate. I think it’s going to be influential across the game, people are going to talk about it, World Rugby are going to send pictures out about it. Hopefully it will make for a safer game.
“It could well be [a watershed moment]. We all have to accept the bigger picture. Rugby has changed, for the better.”
Guided by research, governing body World Rugby has launched a crackdown on the tackle height to reduce the number of head injuries. Any challenge to the head is an automatic red card and it is hoped the zero-tolerance policy will address the greatest single threat to player safety in a sport that is becoming increasing attritional.
“It’s a big statement from World Rugby. The statistics show that that tackle is the one that is more likely to lead to concussion,” Murphy said.
“The change is a really good policy – the bodies who make it are not changing rules for the sake of changing rules, they are doing it for player safety.”
Murphy regrets his condemnation of referee Ian Tempest’s decision in the aftermath of a roller-coaster defeat at the Ricoh Arena.
“I felt in myself that it might seem as though I was taking a head injury lightly and that is not me in any way,” Murphy said. “Looking back, I feel that my comments might have belittled the laws and that was not my intention. It was a little bit of emotion.”