England v Wales incident 'could have killed' North and prompted RFU apology

by 24britishtvFeb. 10, 2024, 2 p.m. 18
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England v Wales has thrown up countless fiery encounters down the years. That is only natural, of course, given the ferocity of this unique and special rivalry of old foes.

The two sides meet at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon in the latest instalment of a rivalry which dates back nearly 150 years. It elicits big moments, big talking points and the victor enjoys the biggest of bragging rights.

Both teams are entering a new era, with Steve Borthwick and Warren Gatland attempting rebuilds of their squads after last year's Rugby World Cup. Yet a drama-filled encounter between the traditional old foes four years ago in south west London sparked more headlines than normal.

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One that occasion, in 2020, a tackle from England centre on Manu Tuilagi on Wales' George North drew the world's eyes to the contest.

Tuilagi was red carded and banned for four weeks over his no-arms tackle on North in England's Six Nations win over Wales on that day four years ago and it caused an almighty furore.

North was hurtling towards the tryline on the right wing before Henry Slade wrapped his legs around his ankles. And it is fortunate he did, all things considered, because Tuilagi flew in with a huge hit and his right shoulder missed North's head by mere millimetres thanks to Slade marginally slowing the Welshman down.

Former Ireland international Alan Quinlan was incensed by the incident at the time, believing North was lucky to escape intact after Tuilagi had recklessly thundered into him.

"People were saying that Manu Tuilagi's tackle on George North wasn't a red card," Quinlan said, "but most of them are English people online.

"It was a clear red and a dangerous, dangerous, dangerous, dangerous tackle. Eddie Jones was asking what [Tuilagi] could do differently, well, he could bring his bloody right arm up and at least attempt to wrap!

"He could have killed the guy!"

Another Ireland international, outspoken pundit Neil Francis who played at lock 36 times for men in green, was equally scathing of Tuilagi at the time.

Writing in the Irish Independent, Francis hit out at Tuilagi's disciplinary record, saying he could have "taken North's head clean off".

Francis said: "That was indicative of what Tuilagi was capable of doing back then and he has had disciplinary incidents all the way through his career up to the point where he could have taken George North’s head off against Wales.

"I have watched the red-card tackle over and over and I find no comfort or mitigation in what Tuilagi did."

He added: "The number-one thought in his head was to stop George North scoring a try under any circumstances. Legal or not.

"That means that Tuilagi didn’t care about the consequences of an illegal tackle. North was prone for a head-to-head or shoulder-to-head and only Henry Slade’s tackle quite possibly saved his life."

Tuilagi's tackle divided opinion and led to a post-match rant from then England head coach Jones, who claimed the red card dished out by referee Ben O'Keeffe was 'absolute rubbish'. He also claimed that it was like 13 players — Ellis Genge was sin binned not long after the Tuilagi incident — against 16 players, suggesting O'Keeffe was on Wales' side.

Jones' outburst prompted a swift response from the Rugby Football Union, who apologised to O'Keeffe and condemned the Australian's comments in the wake of the incident.

"The Rugby Football Union does not condone comments that in any way undermine the integrity of match officials, who are central to the sport and its values," Bill Sweeney, the RFU's CEO said at the time.

"We have discussed with England head coach Eddie Jones the nature of the comments he made to the media in the immediate aftermath of a dramatic finish to the England versus Wales Guinness Six Nations match on Saturday, and have made it clear that such comments are not in line with the values of the sport or the RFU.

"Eddie and the RFU regret any implication that Ben O'Keeffe was biased in his decision making. We have outlined this position to the tournament organisers the Six Nations and World Rugby, who will pass on our apologies to Ben O'Keeffe and the match officials team.

"In the meantime, Eddie Jones and the RFU have proposed a high level discussion forum with World Rugby to help achieve greater general alignment between coaches and match officials.

"All parties are satisfied that the matter has been dealt with appropriately, are confident that further action would be taken should such a situation occur in the future, and consider the matter to be closed."

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