Gregor Townsend has hit out at World Rugby’s disciplinary process around high tackles — insisting it simply isn’t fit for purpose.
Townsend watched his Scotland side kickstart their World Cup campaign by scoring seven tries in a clinical bonus-point win over Tonga in Nice.
But the match was soured somewhat by the incident which forced skipper Jamie Ritchie off the field in the first half following a failed head-injury assessment (HIA).
Tonga winger Afusipa Taumoepeau was sin-binned for an appalling high tackle which saw his shoulder catch Ritchie on the chin. However, the controversial bunker system inexplicably failed to upgrade it to a red — and Townsend blasted the officials for failing to make the correct call.
Following a similar incident involving Scotland’s Jack Dempsey and South Africa’s Jesse Kriel a fortnight ago, Townsend insists it’s just not good enough.
Gregor Townsend (pictured) has hit out at World Rugby’s disciplinary process around high tackles
It came after Scotland ran seven tries past Tonga to claim their first victory at the Rugby World Cup, 45-17
But Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie (middle) was removed from the game after failing a HIA after Afusipa Taumoepeau struck him high with his shoulder
‘It’s very disappointing that our captain, one of our key players, was hit in the head and had to be removed from the game,’ said the Scotland head coach.
‘It’s twice now that’s happened. Against South Africa, Jack Dempsey was hit in the head. Nothing happened that day, and today it was only a yellow card.
‘I just don’t understand what the TMO bunker and the three officials — who are there to say if it’s a red card — are looking at.
‘We’re trying to look at ways to not give red cards rather than referee what isn’t a legal tackle and should be a red card, in my opinion.’
Under the new bunker system, the Foul Play Review Officer and other officials involved have eight minutes to decide whether to upgrade a yellow card to red. Townsend says the system isn’t working as intended, with the high shot on Ritchie a perfect example.
Ritchie will now face a 12-day stand-down period as per concussion protocols, but Scotland are confident he will be fine to face Ireland in Paris on October 7.
‘The TMO bunker is not being delivered as what I thought it would be,’ said Townsend, who was also highly critical of the decision not to cite Kriel a fortnight ago. ‘That is only if the referee is not sure at the time whether it’s a yellow card or a red card.
‘I don’t believe there’s been a red card issued by a referee yet — they’ve all gone to the bunker.
‘It’s to help referees when they are not sure whether it’s a yellow or red card, but it’s taking the game away from the referees to make those decisions.
‘If there is mitigation there for a player who runs into contact and gets hit in the head, I don’t see it. It’s supposed to be a late or sudden change in movement, but Jamie didn’t even carry the ball that low and got hit in the head.
‘This is our showcase, our opportunity to show what is legal and what is illegal, what we want out of the game.
‘That’s two tackles now, both upright, both hit the head of our players, one had no sanction, not even a penalty, and the second one just had a yellow card. I don’t think that’s good enough.
‘It will be a 12-day thing with Jamie because he’s had previous head injuries. Twelve days still makes him available for our final pool game, but it still takes him out of our next game (against Romania on Saturday) which is very disappointing.
‘He’ll be able to return at his level if he gets through all the return-to-play protocols. I’ve no worries about him coming back at his best level.’
Townsend was pleased to see his side get their campaign up and running, with seven tries and seven different scorers.
Scotland now head to Lille and need another five points in the Romania game ahead of the showdown with Ireland.
‘We knew it would be a tough match,’ said Townsend. ‘Tonga are a very good side with very good individuals. They are very physical. We talked about the fact that the work we did in the first 20 minutes might not necessarily lead to points on the board but we believed we could take away their fitness.
It was a nasty impact, with the Tongan winger being sent to the sin bin before coming back onto the field after the TMO bunker were not satisfied it should be upgraded to a red card
Scotland went on to win with Duhan van der Merwe (middle) scoring his first try at the tournament
Blair Kinghorn (pictured) wrapped up the scoring, with Scotland set to now play Romania on Saturday
‘It was a bonus — literally — that we got those four tries in the first half. It was probably a bit ahead of what we expected. Credit to the players for doing that.’
Asked for his thoughts on Ireland beating South Africa on Saturday night, Townsend added: ‘Reading a few comments after the game, it looked like Ireland were already in the quarter-finals.
‘Even chatting to a few people, they were saying it will be Ireland against New Zealand. Maybe that’s already been decided.
‘We know we have to win our next two games, and it’s likely now we’ll have to win with either a bonus point or deny Ireland a bonus point. But we’ve got a game next week to focus on and we’ve got to get maximum points from that one first.’