VIDEO: See a clip of the Ashton / Tuilagi hair-pulling incident on our Facebook page
Update: Ashton has since been cited and is likely to face a two week ban.
To an old school generation of rugby fan, this concept of hair pulling in the game would probably bring a reaction of despair. Long hair in the game might be bad enough for some, but for pulling it to become a punishable offence would no doubt seem a radical departure from what many see as the “tough guy” image associated with the sport.
But with the changing of the times comes the need for these issues to be addressed. Chris Ashton’s tug on the Alesana Tuilagi’s braided hair prompted such an aggressive reaction that up to 20 players were involved a brawl, inches from spectators, with a member of the television crew caught up in the melee and needing medical attention. Tuilagi, the initial victim, was sent off, along with a member of the aggressor’s team, Tom Wood, for the ensuing fight. Studying the tape of the minute of madness may well leave two of three more players facing possible suspensions.
That’s some response. Ashton was consequently vilified in grounds and across message boards (he won the ‘Villain of the weekend’ award in this week’s Best of the Weekend). Although it does not appear in writing under Law 10.4 of the IRB’s Laws of the Game, which includes the usual suspects of Punching or Striking, Retaliation, Dangerous Tackling and so on, hair pulling is generally associated with the last category, given that it is essentially contact above the head and shoulders resulting in a “high tackle”.
There is history in this area though. Brian O’Driscoll was famous penalised for bringing down George Smith by his dreadlocks during a test between Ireland and Australia back in 2003 at the Rugby World Cup. The Bradford Bulls winger Semi Tadulala was fined an insignificant £400 for pulling the hair of Huddersfield’s Eorl Crabtree back in 2009, whilst Lote Tuqiri was also targeted back in February this year playing for the West Tigers in the NRL, yet his attacker was let off with only a warning. Over in the NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu had his hair insured for $1 million, following an endorsement from ‘head & shoulders’. The move came as a result of the fact that in the NFL, hair pulling remains an offence that goes unpunished.
Back in Rugby Union, if to some Ashton’s indiscretion does not fall foul of Law 10.4(e), Dangerous Tackling, then it almost certainly crosses the line of Law 10.4(m), Acts Contrary to Good Sportsmanship. There is no doubt however that it is completely wrong. A lot hinges on the reaction of the citing commissioner, because it will set a precedent for the future.
by Ben Coles