Ashton’s ‘hair pulling’ antics will set a precedent

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

26 thoughts on “Ashton’s ‘hair pulling’ antics will set a precedent

  1. Oh dear – Ashton has fallen into the Haskell school of rugby intelligence. I can concede that someone’s hair might be grabbed by accident in a tackle, but the tackler should realise straight away and let go. Doesn’t appear to be the case here by any stretch of the imagination. Must be punished. It just ain’t cricket!

  2. Whilst i agree to an extent, I think you have to allow incidents such as hair pulling to be ‘heat of the moment’. It’s all well and good saying you should realise and let go, but when you’re in a fierce derby game and someone, (especially someone of the mold of Tuilagi) is making way towards your try-line you’re going to try and stop him whatever way possible. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with it and it should be punished on the field as directed by the rules.

    I don’t think the citing commissioner should do anything at present. If it isn’t directly against the rules then it should be down to the IRB to react and update the rules accordingly.

    1. Have to say that I also nearly went down the flippant route ie. girls and long hair, but decided that as I wouldn’t say it to Tuilagi’s face, I’d better not say it here! I really don’t condone what Ashton did, before anyone says anything.

  3. Ashton should be punished for this. It’s not just a matter of him pulling Tuilagi’s hair. He dragged him into touch by it, and that is beyond unsporting behaviour. It might not be against the rules but it is still not the sort of thing we want to see in a rugby match. I would think a lot of rugby fans sometimes think a game needs a bit of a scrap, but this should not be condoned.

  4. I rather agree with Andy – the priority is to wrestle him into touch and I don’t think he deliberately started with the hair. Maybe ladies’ rugby has some precedent? Teams wear tight-fitting jerseys to make it harder for them to get scragged, so why not cut the hair?

  5. As a player who played for a year with shoulder-length hair, it’s no secret that if you grow your hair out, it will get involved in the game. My hair would get stepped on in rucks, stuck between people’s bodies, but only one time was I ever tackled by it. You don’t bring someone down by their hair on accident, unless there’s something seriously wrong with your technique. Tackling someone in such a manner deserves punishment of some kind, although what kind I’m not sure. A ban would surely be too harsh, but something has to be done to reprimand Ashton here.

  6. ha ha ha ha . seeing it makes me laugh, Ashton pulling him along by his hair ! so funny. I imagine Ashton saying after, ” but it was just there! so I grabbed it!” Of course he is a tosser for doing it but you got to laugh, Eh. . The blokes an Idiot anyway prancing about like an England super star signing his book. and he hasn’t been in the team five mins.

    We know he can score tries n stuff, but I can’t stand the fake.

  7. I have to admit, I have been on the giving end of a “hair-pulling” tackle in the past and it was a complete and utter accident, so I can vouch, along with the comment a few posts above, that it does happen and most of the time it is not malicious.

    Having said that, I don’t condone what Ashton has done here in the slightest as the tackle had been made and the ball gone to ground. Is there any argument that Ashton actually did not release the player on the ground once the “tackle” had been made? (Long shot I know but take another look at the video closely).

    1. having watched the video i can tell you that it was most definitely malicious. Ashton pulled on Tuilagis hair like he was doing a tug-of-war.

  8. Ashton pulling hair should be punished. His actions before that meant something was going to happen, as it did. If it means half a team being suspended, no matter who they are, the message must be sent that, you cross the line of discipline then you will be punished. On the field or off it.

  9. Agree with above, but I’ll say one thing positive – boy has some balls. Not afraid of either of the Tuilagi beasts.

  10. Just watched the game through again. I don’t think it was too bad – in real time he reaches out to grab hold of something, grabs his hair first as its the closest thing then drags him in and grabs the body. Penalty for unsporting conduct at most. The red cards were unnecessary as well. No clean punches… Murphy probably throws the most “proper” punches.

  11. fuss over nothing.

    there wont be a spate of “hair pulling ” across the premiership or anything will there!

  12. Ashton seemed to be acting on the premise that if you’ve got a tiger by the tail then keep on pulling and he got the result that you’d expect both on and off the pitch.

    Only seen out in the open hair-pulling once before in a game and that was many years ago in my school team where a particular forward went through his whole school career without a hair-cut and got dragged back by his flowing locks about 20 yds out from a clear score. I think he was ordered to squeeze it under a scrum cap or get it cut .

    Seems like a one off and not likely to set a trend reinforced by the ban .

  13. I agree with Jim Mallinder, a four week ban for pulling someones hair seems very harsh. Wingers actions are very exposed so it seems worse than it is, but if this went on in a scrum no one would blink. I watched NFL last week and a guy got pulled down by his dreadlocks when about to score and everyone thought that was fair enough!

  14. I understand there’s no specific law against ‘hair pulling’ in Rugby Union or NFL so they have can use the law of ‘Acts Contrary to Good Sportsmanship’ and I’m sure there’s a similar law in NFL. I agree, there’s an understanding that it’s wrong in rugby and that it should be punished, but I just think 4 weeks is a long time for a quick tug!

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