Gregor Townsend says he is “really concerned” about World Rugby’s new laws covering high tackles, which come into effect this weekend.
The Glasgow Warriors coach said he believes the move is “coming from the right place” in the battle against concussion and dangerous play but has a number of worries about the effect the new regulations could have on games.
Essentially, the new laws mean that any high tackle deemed to be reckless and high will be met with a yellow or red card, while even accidental contact above the shoulders will be a penalty.
Coaches and players have criticised the timing of the introduction and expressed fears that it could lead to a ruinous explosion in harsh cardings.
Townsend is no different and, speaking ahead of the Warriors’ first match under the new rule against Cardiff Blues in the Guinness Pro12 at Scotstoun tonight, he said: “I have to say I’m really concerned about what the games could end up being the next few weeks.
“There’s going to be a huge level of interpretation on what constitutes an accidental tackle. The ball carrier potentially could be doing things to initiate a high tackle by dipping in at the last minute. That is away from the clear-cut ones, which we are rightly looking to take away – targeting the head and neck area.
“I just really hope that common sense prevails. The best referees are the ones that have empathy with the game and what the player was trying to do. They are able to sanction appropriately. They can determine whether it was a penalty or a yellow card or realise that there was maybe a slip, or that you just didn’t perform something that is a difficult technical skill because somebody did something to manipulate you, and you’re sent off for it.”
Townsend added his weight to the argument that such a big change should have been left until the start of a fresh campaign.
“I think it will be difficult, especially to do it mid-season when you haven’t had time to build in better technique and work on what you might do if a player goes in low,” he added.
Townsend added: “We are entering a real grey area. You just hope the game comes through it strong and with common sense because, you know what it’s like, you get one yellow card and it affects the nature of the game.
“When you get two or three or a red the game is going to be totally different for the supporters and the players who have put that effort in. I believe they are coming from the right place but let’s just wait and see.”
Yesterday’s pre-match conference became dominated by the Finn Russell and high tackle issues but Townsend was keen to stress the importance of tonight’s match in keeping up the push for a top-four place and set the right tone for the huge upcoming European clashes with Munster and Leicester.
Co-captain Jonny Gray is a number of players who return to the starting line-up after being rested for last weekend’s win in Treviso, while Stuart Hogg sits out this time.
Alex Dunbar and Mark Bennett re-unite in the centres and Russell teams up again with Ali Price at half-back.
“We know Cardiff are a quality side and they have been saying this is a must-win game for them so it’s going to be a real test,” said Townsend. “We’ve lost to Cardiff this year so the players who played in that one will know what a difficult team they are. I thought they did well against Scarlets last week [a 15-10 loss] but just didn’t get the rub of the green. Players want to play next week so doing well tomorrow will put them in a better position to face Munster.”
The coach said he was not worried that the looming Euro blockbuster with the Irish at Scotstoun next Saturday would in any way distract from the job at hand tonight and said that the next three weeks constituted a significant moment in the season.
“Obviously it was a pivotal time in December too with key Champions Cup games and big ones in the league,” he said. “But now we move on to a team that is sitting just below us in the Pro12 and then our last two games in the Champions Cup [pool stage] which if we win we’ll go through into the quarter-finals for the first time so it’s massive.
“I think with the two-week break for us after the Leicester game it’s three games we can look at putting everything into it and targeting them. Then take stock and look at a different squad that will play during the Six Nations when there are some really important Pro12 games.”