O’Driscoll’s tackle school verdict and what he makes of Owen Farrell

Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll has given his verdict on the tackle school that enables red-carded or cited offenders to get a match off their ban by working on their technique at training. The intervention was originally introduced on a pilot basis in July 2021 and World Rugby reported in late November that just eight of the 120 players who had taken advantage of the ‘school’ up until that point had reoffended since their ban.

That, agreed O’Driscoll, was encouraging evidence of the improvements being generated by a gambit that has now become a permanent disciplinary measure to encourage sanctioned bad tackle offenders to improve their technique.

Following last weekend’s European action, five red-carded players – Sale’s Cobus Wiese (two games), London Irish pair Ciaran Parker (two games) and Ben Loader (three games), Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue (three games) and Newcastle’s Elliott Obatoyinbo (three games) – were all inviting to take part in the coaching intervention program so that the final match of their suspensions could be scratched.

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While he approves of the tackle school concept, O’Driscoll, doesn’t believe the successful completion of the programme should be rewarded with suspended players getting their bans reduced by a week. “Someone did make a point there was only six per cent recurring which shoots down people rolling their eyes that it [tackle school] isn’t worth anything. It does feel a bit gimmicky but it serves a purpose,” he said Rugby Pass.

“Human instinct is that having received a red card you are going to reduce your tackle height and you are going to be more mindful of it anyway, so I don’t know if it is necessarily anything to do with tackle school that brings that number (of repeat offenders) right down. But if it is beneficial in some shape or form, you should probably have to go to tackle school and not get an extra week off. I don’t think it should be a Brucie bonus for you to be able to go ‘well done, one less week’. That is a bit farcical.”

Now a pundit for BT Sport, O’Driscoll reviewed last weekend’s glut of European red cards after the station’s coverage of all the matches. He was correct in predicting that Henry Slade would have his red card terminated, but he felt that the cards shipped by the likes of Wiese and Parker suggested players will have to stop going in for breakdown clearouts in the situations they found themselves in.

“The red cards, there were many different ones. We did a piece on the show on Sunday with Lawrence (Dallaglio) and Craig (Doyle) where you are going to have to potentially leave players in the jackal position where there is no access point to clear them out. It’s going to be all about winning the shoulder.

“If you don’t win the shoulder, you are going to find guys looking at a target, realizing there is nothing there for them and having to let the ball go (without contesting the ruck) if they are going to remain on the field . The Loader one was different, it was poor technique. I saw Les Kiss talking in commentary and I think he said flabbergasted.

“I didn’t think it was flabbergasting, to be honest with you. I understand why players end up going high. When you are chasing someone that is very fast the last thing you want to do is drop your body height too soon because you will lose your ability to go again if they accelerate again or if they use footwork.

“That is what the very last second is when you want to drop your body height and sometimes people get that timing wrong and where they don’t get into position. I don’t think it is anything about locking the ball up, it’s just getting into the correct body position to make a tackle. For me, all of them were red cards except for Henry Slade. That was an incredibly soft red card and that will be canceled.”

Amid the current clampdown on tackles with red cards now a weekly occurrence, how would the retired O’Driscoll, a veteran of 133 Ireland caps and another eight for the British and Irish Lions, fare in the modern game nine years on from his 2014 retirement ?

“I was at a different time. There was probably more of an opportunity to throw more shoulder, less arm. What constituted a wrap at that time is different from the current laws around it, so I think I would have modified my tackling technique depending on what you are likely to get away,” he reckoned.

“The thing is you want to play online, you want to play on the cusp of legality. That’s what Owen Farrell does. He gets one (tackle) wrong every so often but if you were a teammate of his you wouldn’t want him changing too much because that aggression is a hallmark of his competitiveness and his ability to dominate situations and that is such a catalyst for the rest of his team as well.

“So you know when do tackle high and lock the ball up, you do run the risk of occasionally picking up a yellow or a red card. I guess I would have modified things depending on the circumstance of the situation, and you have got to mix your chop tackle up with your high wrap tackle in any case because one tackle doesn’t fit all.”

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