For some time this has been my pet hate in rugby, for years eye gouging was rugby’s biggest problem but several high profile cases and severe punishments has ensured we haven’t had any serious complaints in recent times. However Seremaia Bai’s red card affair at the weekend highlighted a number of key issues with the current situation of shoulder charges.

The shoulder charges that offend me the most and make my blood boil are those in which someone comes in to clean out a ruck at full tilt, giving no care for their own body let alone their opponents and tries to ‘clear out’ a player at ruck time. This is usually done by a tight five forward who wants to throw their weight around and dislodge a player without any attempt at staying on their feet, although Bai’s case shows it can be anyone offending. The culprit will torpedo into a ruck and smash an opposition player using their shoulder as the point of impact. It is an effective way of moving someone however it is highly dangerous and highly illegal.

It is hard to identify exactly what the punishment should be for such an offence, on the World Rugby website they identify this to be the ruling.

“Law 16.2 Joining a ruck

(b) A player joining a ruck must bind on a team-mate or an opponent, using the whole arm. The bind must either precede, or be simultaneous with, contact with any other part of the body of the player joining the ruck.”


This offence is deemed penalty worthy yet Bai was shown a red card for his challenge. Initially Wayne Barnes dished out a yellow for the dangerous shoulder charge however once the TMO had a word that Bai may have made contact with Nathan Hughes head this was seen as dangerous enough for a red card.

This worried me, head injuries are the new topic now, five years ago it was eye gouging, but soon enough I believe it will be this dangerous rucking. Head injuries are bad but are they worse than neck injuries? It would be interesting to see how Barnes would have reacted should Bai have struck Hughes in the neck or back area appose to the head. If anyone has any doubts to the serious of neck/spinal injuries look no further than a man who was making his comeback in that same game, Joe Launchbury. The England lock was returning from a six month injury lay off due to a neck injury sustained in October, although it must be noted he gave a seriously impressive display as it appeared he had missed no time at all.

Thankfully Bai has since received a three match ban effectively ending his contribution to the Tigers this season. In my mind this should be the minimum punishment and I hope this is because of Bai’s previous good record appose to a lack of seriousness to deal with the current situation. It is very dangerous play and could put a player out injured for weeks so by that reckoning a player infringing in such a manor should be banned for weeks.

My main concern is that Barnes only upgraded the offence to a red card once it was clear that Hughes had been struck on the head. In my mind a shoulder charge is a dangerous offence with the intention of causing pain to an opponent, If a tip tackle is instant red so too should a shoulder charge to a player on the ground not able to brace or defend himself. Had there been no ruck and Bai offended off the ball it would have been a straight red card, look at Chris Hala’ufia’s head push two weeks ago for London Welsh against Leicester, a lot less dangerous but instant red was shown without hesitation.


I wrote this article as someone who has been on the receiving end of one of these challenges a few years ago and was subsequently out injured for nearly 6 months with neck troubles, the offender in that game didn’t even get a yellow card. I am interested to see if the wider rugby community have such an issue with the topic as I do. Should there be harsher laws about players entering the ruck to shoulder charge players? Surely if players are receiving red cards and bans for innocuous challenges in the air to compete for the ball then this situation is a whole lot more deliberate and equally as dangerous?