Gregor Townsend calls for rule rethink from World Rugby in wake of Duhan van der Merwe ban

Gregor Townsend urges rule rethink from World Rugby in wake of Duhan van der Merwe ban

GREGOR Townsend has urged World Rugby to make a fresh ruling on hand-offs to the face after Scotland winger Duhan van der Merwe was suspended for three weeks for a fend in a club game.

Van der Merwe will miss Scotland’s remaining two Six Nations matches after a disciplinary panel handed down the ban for the red card he received while playing for Worcester Warriors in a Gallagher Premiership against London Irish. His place in the team to play Italy tomorrow has gone to Glasgow back Kyle Steyn.

The announcement of the suspension came from the RFU, England’s governing body, but Townsend believes the issue needs to be clarified at global level. He cited a try in which South Africa winger Makazole Mapimpi handed off two Japanese players as an example of what is and should be allowed, and contrasted that with the ruling that has deprived him of Van der Merwe.

“I was really disappointed with the decision at the time, and I’ve been scratching my head ever since,” the Scotland coach said. “We’re allowed to hand off in the game of rugby. It’s in the law book and something we do from a young age. It’s something which is celebrated.

“So you’re allowed to put your hand in someone’s face, in the head area. So for someone to attempt that at high speed against another player who is going at high speed, who is upright trying to tackle him, and execute it in the end but on the way to doing that his forearm touches that player’s face …

“The fine margin for that, from something which would have been celebrated as a great hand-off, to be sent off from the game and you are not going to play for three weeks, is ridiculous in my view. And World Rugby need to come out with a statement and make a distinction between something which is legal and encouraged in the game, and not put attempted hand-offs in the same criteria as a high tackle or a dangerous ruck clear.

“They [the English panel] followed the head-contact process, but I think that is wrong in this situation,” he added. “We should be protecting the attacking player in a circumstance like that when he is up against someone trying to tackle him upright.

“So, obviously we’re disappointed for Duhan. He’s very upset. But we’ll move on, and Kyle will go and grab his opportunity. But I have real questions about the game and what we’re trying to do here, when a hand-off to the face is allowed and encouraged.”

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