Matt Dawson tackle highlights how far rugby has come - and how much further it has to go

Footage of Corne Krige's tackle on Dawson from 2002 was on social media this week

In his latest piece for TRU, Ben Mercer gives us his thoughts on Matt Dawson's recent Twitter post and way the game still has a way to go.

Matt Dawson’s comments on his high tackle, sustained in one of the most brutal games in memory between England and South Africa back in 2002, brings into focus how far the game has come since then.

The Springboks were awful that day, in both their standard of play and behaviour and deservedly suffered a record defeat at the hands of England. The captain Corne Krige, the man responsible for that tackle, has apologised to Dawson on Twitter and owned up to his misdeeds.

It’s great that a video like this has come to light, but let’s not pretend that tackles like this were the preserve of one team on one particular afternoon.

I was watching some classic rugby highlights, sandwiched between Test matches recently one Saturday morning, when I happened to catch some of that England era against the southern hemisphere powerhouses. Watching England at that time was a reliable pleasure; you knew they were going to win and that usually, they’d do it with panache.

Their main man was Jonny Wilkinson. Every team feared him and his metronomic kicking, meaning that infringing against England was a sure-fire route to defeat. This reluctance to offend against England meant more space for the team to play and it can be overlooked that they played really entertaining stuff.

No one needs me to tell them Jonny Wilkinson was good at rugby; he’s right up there on the list of all-time greats and I loved watching him. I got to train with him a couple of times and it was really quite thrilling.

Wilkinson was certainly far more sinned against than one of the sinners, but let’s remember that he was lionised for his commitment in defence, relatively unheard of at the time for a fly half. Watch this compilation of his big hits and see how many would now garner him at least a yellow card.

In this era of rugby higher tackles, often involving no arms, were far more prevalent and the focus now on lowering the tackle height is definitely well-intentioned, even if the implementation is proving to be contentious.

The next thing on the regulatory agenda has to be at the breakdown where missile style clearout are spectacularly dangerous and often unsanctioned. In the general melee of a high-level rugby match, it’s impossible for an on-pitch referee to see everything all the time but these clearouts, usually aimed at a jackler, attempting to turn over the ball, are just as bad as the tackle on Dawson.

A jackler is stationary and in a vulnerable position, bent over and usually unable to see an oncoming assailant. A crocodile roll is another method commonly employed that can lead to injury and Ben Ryan is someone championing that the current ruck laws be applied consistently.

Ross Tucker is a man worth looking up on Twitter as he’s the person chosen to head up World Rugby’s studies on concussion. He uses empirical data that can clash with what we perceive to be going on and he states that concussions happen far more regularly in the tackle than in the ruck. This means that the tackle is the area that’s being addressed first.

The aim of reducing concussive episodes first and foremost is admirable, even if cynics say that it’s been precipitated by an NFL payout of about $2 billion to former players who’ve suffered life changing injuries from their participation in the sport rather than motivated by true concern for player welfare.

The fact remains that the rules of the game are being inconsistently applied in the tackle and in the ruck, threatening the livelihoods of the players and leading to confusion amongst spectators as to what constitutes what on the field.

The game has come some way since that tackle on Dawson in 2002. It just needs to go a bit further.