Digby Ioane and that lifting tackle

During the Reds loss to the Sharks in Durban on Saturday night, Digby Ioane was sent off with a yellow card after nailing Marcell Coetzee in a monster of a tackle.  He has since been cited for foul play and is facing a possible suspension further damaging the Reds chances on their road trip in South Africa.  There has been a heated debate and discussion both in the media and on Twitter with many pundits (particularly from South Africa) saying that Ioane should have been given a red card instead with many referencing Sam Warburton’s red card during the Rugby World Cup last year.

After watching both incidents on YouTube several times I can’t see how Digby’s tackle can be compared to Sam Warburton’s in any way.  Digby clearly pulls out of the tackle and Coetzee lands on his back and based on his performance after the tackle he should win footballer (whoops sorry rugby player) of the year for his acting performance. 

Yes I do agree that the tackle contravenes section 10.4  (j) of the IRB laws on Dangerous Play and Misconduct (see below) but I believe Ioane has paid the price with the 10 minute sin binning and should receive no further sanctions from SANZAR. 

Whilst I understand the need for player safety and don’t condone tipping or spear tackling in any way, since when did rugby get so soft?  Several years ago this tackle would have been shown in the highlight reel as one of the best tackles of the round but now it seems it’s a red card or suspension offence.  I say man up and move on.

*Update: Ioane has been suspended from all forms of the game for five weeks up to and including Saturday 21st April 2012. Read about the decision.

IRB laws on Dangerous Play and Misconduct


(j) Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player’s feet are still off the ground such that the player’s head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play.

Sanction: Penalty kick


(a) Any player who infringes any part of the Foul Play Law must be admonished, or cautioned and temporarily suspended for a period of ten minutes’ playing time, or sent-off.

(b) A player who has been cautioned and temporarily suspended who then commits a second cautionable offence within the Foul Play Law must be sent-off.


(a) When a player has been cautioned and temporarily suspended in an International match the referee will show that player a yellow card.

(b) When a player has been sent off in an International match, the referee will show that player a red card.

(c) For other matches the Match Organiser or Union having jurisdiction over the match may decide upon the use of yellow and red cards.

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  1. 1

    Can’t say that I agree with that, if anything Digby’s tackle was worse than Warburton’s. He seems to have set out to lift Coetzee and turn him over, whereas with Clerc it looked like it was the size difference between him and Warburton which caused him to be lifted. That he only got a yellow card looks like another case of the officials bottling it just like they did in the recent Wales-Ireland game where a Welsh player only received a yellow for an off-the-ball tip-tackle.

    All that is speculation though, where I really disagree is your last paragraph. Yes, rugby is a tough game, but the kind of fetishisation of big hits which leads to this kind of thing being shown in highlight reels is extremely dangerous. Spear/tip-tackles have been singled-out because it can easily lead to serious injury, where a player’s career can be ended in an instant, or worse a guy being paralysed. As the professional era moves on players continue to get stronger and stronger and unfortunately the human bodies ability to absorb punishment is not congruent with its ability to dish it out. I don’t think there’s anybody who loves rugby who doesn’t appreciate the physical aspect of the game, but there have to be limits. Let’s leave the reveling in kind of thing to League.

    • 2

      Dear Steve,

      I whole-heartedly disagree with the points you have raised in your reply.

      If you would like to penalise players for their intentions as opposed to their actions then I am all ears as to how you would impose this. I assume this is what you mean by saying “if anything Digby’s tackle was worse than Warburton’s. He seems to have set out to lift Coetzee and turn him over”.

      Does this mean that you feel that Warburton’s punishment of a red card and a 3 week ban was too harsh? Have you come to this conclusion based on the the view that Warburton didn’t mean to lift Clerc (whilst Ione did) and that he should have been granted some compassion because he outsized his opponent by 10cm and 16kgs?

      I feel that this reasoning is somewhat flawed.

      The way I see it is:

      Ione’s tackle should not have been a yellow card offense and certainly not a ban of 5 weeks. If the referee was unsure of the course of action the white card could have been used. The tackle was in no way malicious but in the spirit of the game. By this I feel that Ione wanted to win the contest and to produce a dominant tackle – something which is arguably the most important aspect in rugby. To win the contact is to have the advantage and put your team on the front foot – whether it is a scrum, a ruck, a maul or a tackle. Coetzee landed on the area of the back I would describe as the shoulder blade – with a very small chance of a serious injury. In short – a good, hard tackle.

      Warburton’s tackle should have been a yellow card. In the heat of the moment of a RWC semi final I would describe the tackle as ‘reckless’ in the fact that Warburton must take responsibility for any player he lifts off the ground. Knowing that Clerc is considerably smaller, Warburton should have known that the way in which he decided to execute the tackle would have resulted in something that was not legal. For this he should definitely have been penalised.

      Davies’ tackle (from the Welsh – Irish match you mentioned) should have been a red card and a ban. This is because Davies intentionally followed through with a tackle at the ruck, completely off the ball and after the play had gone, with Donnacha Ryan no long being a counter-rucking threat at the breakdown. On top of this Davies still lifted Ryan well past horizontal, let go and dropped him on the top of his shoulders and neck.

      Maybe this is just a difference of opinions between what you and I see as dangerous play, and where we draw the line but by the sound of your last paragraph, it seems like you would draw the line well below where most other rugby players and supporters would.

      I look forward to your reply.


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