Hair Pulling

This has become a red-hot topic lately.

So in the law discussion today here is the scenario…
Red player with the ball beats the defender and is looking to make a run down field. The defender in a final attempt to stop the ball carrier from getting away reaches out with one hand and grabs. Unfortunately coming away with a handful of hair. The defender gives enough of a tug to change the motion and positive outcome of the ball carrier.
Now before I break this down for everyone, what was more disturbing than the actual incident, was when later a player seeking clarification, said that another referee they had spoken to said, “its open to interpretation.
Is it? Lets dig in deeper….
1: The first question is when did it occur? 
Why does this matter you ask, simple. In the first few minutes of a game you would expect referees to be issuing verbal warnings rather than throwing red cards. Remember we use progressive discipline in rugby, so if you start with a red, what do you give on the next call. Yes we set our standards high and we set them early, this does not mean we come out the gate throwing cards like confetti at a wedding.
So back to the question. Answer = 70 minutes into the game!
2: What level was the competition?
This matters because as the professionals we are, we are going to manage a little more rather than be punitive with lower level, developmental games.
Answer = Men’s D2
3a: So contact falls into two categories for us as referees. Was it ACCIDENTAL, meaning they intended to go in low and make a great hit, but due to some action, like the player slipping they made contact high? Also under accidental is, when through the result of a slip or some other accidental event the offending player immediately realized their error and removed/let go in a manner that left the ball carrier free to continue their course unobstructed from their original trajectory. As in, you grabbed him high, oops, you immediately let go and the ball carrier could continue to play/present the ball as they originally intended.
3b: RECKLESS on the other hand means, “player should have known better.” Nothing ever good comes from going high! A collar grab is high and is reckless/desperate play.
So back to the situation….
D2 high level play
Reckless attempt to stop the ball carrier
No immediate release but instead a “tug” resulting in the ball carrier loosing fwd. momentum.
A hair pull in this situation is reckless play and as such ones hands are tied to the minimum of a yellow. 
(At the professional level this is ruled dangerous play and is a red card infringement.)
Argument of course is, but why not just a penalty? So ask yourself, 70min into the game, 2 point differential, high level teams, ball carrier beats the defender… were the actions of the defender accidental as he intended to go low and make a stop or was it a desperate attempt to stop the ball carrier with no regard for the outcome other than to stop the ball carrier at all costs? Did he release immediately or follow through with a tug? 
Ask yourself this, if it was your teammate about to make a break away run and the other team grabbed them by the hair, no matter accidental or reckless, what are your emotions telling you? Is it just a “hey buddy please play nice back 10”? What do you think is going to happen at the next contact point?
Remember our webinar on Identifying and Managing Flash Points, if players feel the referee is not handling infractions well enough they will take the law into their own hands. You can identify this in your own games. Are the players throwing hand bags, arguing back and forth, unnecessarily pushing and shoving each other… why? What are you doing or not doing?
I would not throw the book at any one opting for the penalty only, but would urge you to take all aspects that surround a play into consideration. When in the game? Where on the field? What was the score? What was the level of the teams? What was the demeanor leading to that point? There is so much to being a great referee, it keeps us all on our toes and always evaluating every situation, every game we blow, look to grow each and every game:
Thank you for what you all do and continue to do to make us a great society. 🙂
– Andre Bruwer, Ohio Rugby Referees Society President and CMO

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