Rugby union faces a potential rise in cynical dives and play-acting unless the directives given to referees and television match officials are re-examined, according to Leicester’s director of rugby, Richard Cockerill. The Tigers claim they have been advised by the Rugby Football Union that the punch thrown by London Irish’s Blair Cowan last weekend was not worthy of a card partly because Jamie Gibson, the player he struck, was unhurt.


Cockerill believes such a precedent may encourage players in similar situations to fall in a dramatic heap in order to increase the chances of an opponent being carded. “In law I am told a punch is down to the referee’s interpretation, so the referee will decide whether it is a hard or a soft punch,” said Cockerill. “One of the comments that alarmed me the most is that Gibson didn’t need treatment and didn’t go to the floor. The encouragement would be that, if you get punched, go to the floor, get treatment and the player will get sent off. So now the lawmakers are actually encouraging you to dive. I said that is the thin end of the wedge.”

The citing officer assigned to the match, ironically, was Wade Dooley, the former England second-row forward who played in an era when punching was significantly more commonplace. “The referee [Greg Garner] and the TMO at the weekend decided the punch to Gibson’s face didn’t hurt him and wasn’t hard,” continued Cockerill. “I had an email from Gerard McEvilly [the RFU’s head of discipline] and Wade Dooley who said it wasn’t even a level one citing which would have merited a yellow card.


“In his [Dooley’s] day it wouldn’t even have been a penalty. But that is the point. There is a 50-year-old bloke sat in the TMO caravan outside dictating whether someone gets hurt when they get punched. It is pretty subjective. If someone punches me it might hurt, if someone punches you it might not hurt. It is a very dangerous precedent to set. You can’t say: ‘It didn’t really hurt Gibson so it is all right.’ Well, how do you know. How did you know it has not cracked his cheekbone or cracked his jaw?”

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