Super Rugby red cards highlight alarming issues with big men’s tackling technique

Officials in Super Rugby Pacific have again been forced to reach for their tin hats, with Highlanders captain Aaron Smith the latest to tee-off in their direction.

Smith didn’t bother to camouflage his annoyance after his side’s white-knuckle 22-21 loss to the Hurricanes in Dunedin on Saturday night and, like Ardie Savea the previous week, made sure he hit the bullseye with his tasty comments.

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All Blacks halfback Smith, having watched in frustration as the officials agreed they wouldn’t award a try to substitute prop Saula Ma’u in the 81st minute of the match at Forsyth Barr Stadium, hit the hot button when interviewed moments after his side’s seventh loss from eight games.

“It could have been a try at the end – maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, ” Smith stated. ‘But we are getting robbed all the time. We had a red card (to lock Josh Dickson) for contact to the head and one of our guys blatantly gets a black eye, and the touchies and the ref walk it off like it’s nothing.

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“All we want is consistency as players, and we’re just getting no rub of the green at the moment. It’s hard to swallow.”

Smith, clearly, was miffed no action was taken against the Hurricanes after team-mate Gareth Evans suffered swelling around the eye after contact in a ruck late in the game.

If this type of complaint sounds familiar, you’re on to something. Because in the previous round, Hurricanes skipper Ardie Savea had a dig at the officials following his side’s narrow, and controversial, defeat to the Crusaders in Wellington.

Savea said they would “just love the officials to demand better.”

Referee Angus Mabey shows Josh Dickson a red card for a high tackle during the match against the Hurricanes in Dunedin.

Joe Allison / Getty Images

Referee Angus Mabey shows Josh Dickson a red card for a high tackle during the match against the Hurricanes in Dunedin.

Once Smith calmed down they would, surely, agree that the Highlanders didn’t help themselves. Go no further, for example, than the red card to Dickson for his high shot on Tevita Mafileo.

It’s a message the blocks with the whistles may also want to share.

Blues lock Luke Romano celebrates the victory over his old team in Christchurch on Saturday night.  It was the Blues' first win in the city since 2004.

Martin Hunter / Photosport

Blues lock Luke Romano celebrates the victory over his old team in Christchurch on Saturday night. It was the Blues’ first win in the city since 2004.

Not such a Good Friday for southern footy heads

The Crusaders should grab a big mirror to gaze into after their 27-23 defeat to the Blues in the epic encounter in Christchurch on Good Friday.

Having captain Scott Barrett red carded for flooring Alex Hodgman was far from helpful, especially when the Crusaders were already short of experienced locks with the likes of Sam Whitelock unavailable due to injury.

Crusaders captain Scott Barrett begins his walk of shame after being red carded during the match against the Blues at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch.

Martin Hunter / Photosport

Crusaders captain Scott Barrett begins his walk of shame after being red carded during the match against the Blues at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch.

What can be done about high tackles?

Barrett and Dickson have more in common than just red cards. Both are tall locks, charged with reducing their height when executing tackles.

At the weekend they failed to do that, and paid the price.

It’s one thing to blame the officials for missing other alleged incidents, but the players also must play their part. The frustrating aspect of all this, is that Barrett and Dickson are not rookies. Yet, for whatever reason, whether it be fatigue or a desire to put a massive shot on an opponent, their technique was poor. Thankfully, neither of their victims had to be stretchered off the park.

Former All Black Brad Thorn has guided the Queensland Reds to seven victories from eight matches this season.

Jono Searle / Getty Images

Former All Black Brad Thorn has guided the Queensland Reds to seven victories from eight matches this season.

Now, it’s time to cross the Tasman

The New Zealand derby games are over until the playoffs.

Despite their grim win-loss record, the Highlanders are not out of the title contest. Far from it.

Although they sit in 10th place, the Highlanders fly to Melbourne for next weekend’s “super round”, knowing they are just one win away from advancing into the top eight.

The bad news is this: their opponent at AAMI Park will be the Brumbies, who are second on the competition log behind the Blues.

The Chiefs (who thumped Moana Pasifika 45-12 in Hamilton on Saturday afternoon), meet the Waratahs and the Crusaders face the Rebels.

The in-form Blues will confront Fijian Drua. Moana Pasifika faces the Force.

It’s time for the Aussies to get a taste of Kiwi.

At a glance

Round eight

Blues 27 (Finlay Christie, Dalton Papalii, Kurt Eklund tries; Stephen Perofeta 2, Beauden Barrett cons, Perofeta pen, Barrett pen) Crusaders 23 (Sevu Reece 2, Will Jordan tries; Richie Mo’unga con, 2 pen). HT: 17-7

Reds 36 (Connor Vest, Tate McDermott, Lawson Creighton, Taniela Tupou, Josh Flook tries; James O’Connor 4 con, pen) Rebels 32 (Richard Hardwick, James Hanson, Matt Philip, Cabous Elof tries; Matt To’omua 3 con, pen, Reece Hodge pen). HT: 24-15

Chiefs 45 (Etene Nanai-Seturo 2, Alex Nankivell 2, Luke Jacobson, Rivez Reihana tries; Bryn Gatland 6 con, pen) Moana Pacific 12 (Anzelo Tuitavuki, Solomone Kata tries; Lincoln McClutchie con). HT: 24-5

Hurricanes 22 (Bailyn Sullivan, Salesi Rayasi, Aidan Morgan tries; Jordie Barrett 2 con, pen) Highlanders 21 (Andrew Makalio, Max Hicks tries; Mary Banks con, 3 pen) HT: 14-6

Waratahs 41 (Alex Newsome 2, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Lalakai Foketi, Michael Hooper, Dave Porecki; Tane Edmed 4 con, pen) Force 24 (Reesjan Pasitoa 2, Tim Anstee, Andrew Ready tries; Ian Prior 2 con). HT: 24-7

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