Rugby World Cup struggling to deal with hot potato as England star concerned

France 2023 runs the risk of being remembered for the refereeing as much as the rugby after a controversial first ten days. Balancing the clampdown on head impacts with the game’s essential contact element has proved to be a dizzying business for the officials.

After England’s Tom Curry was sent off following a head-on-head collision against Argentina last weekend, there have been more contentious bunker reviews this week with New Zealand’s Ethan de Groot red carded for a high tackle against Namibia but France’s Romain Taofifenua escaping with a yellow for an almost identical incident against Uruguay.

But injured England wing Anthony Watson is optimistic the inconsistencies over what constitutes a red card will be ironed out during the tournament.

“It’s a tough balance to hit and that’s why we are seeing so many grey area calls at the moment,” he said. “I personally felt the Tom Curry red card was a rugby incident and it shouldn’t have been a red card.

“We have to find a better balance in the understanding of mitigating circumstances. There are certain circumstances where these sorts of things are unpreventable. I hope it doesn’t become a World Cup defined by refereeing decisions. That would be a real shame. It shouldn’t because there are so many quality players and teams on show.

“I don’t think it will. I think there will be more consistency found as the tournament progresses. Referees get together between rounds and discuss these things.”

Concussion is rugby’s hot potato and despite the problems the extra scrutiny on it has brought, Watson feels the game is right to try to tackle it given the long-term dangers.

“I’ve had a few concussions. It is an occupational hazard. Do I worry about it? Yes. Seeing the stuff about Steve Thompson is scary,” he said. “It doesn’t change my approach to the game but you just have to be honest with yourself if you do get a concussion about coming back too early. You have to take it very seriously.”

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It is why he is supporting UK Coaching’s Duty to Care campaign which is spreading the message to coaches of prioritising safety and well-being across all sports.

“Things have come on a lot but there is still growth to be made and that will come through a better shared understanding of concussion,” said Watson.

“What UK Coaching are doing by providing this resource to coaches allows them to have a toolkit to go into when they need help and support in certain areas including concussion with education in there on the signs and early symptoms and what to look for in your players. That is so important.”

To find out more about UK Coaching’s Duty to Care Hub, visit

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