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Six Nations 2022: Van der Merwe ban ‘ridiculous’ as Gregor Townsend fears for where rugby is headed

Scotland's Duhan van der Merwe.
Scotland's Duhan van der Merwe.

Gregor Townsend fears for the future of the rugby’s celebrated ‘hand-off’ in the wake of Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe’s ban.

The Scotland head coach said he had “real questions about the game and where we’re headed” if attackers couldn’t hand-off defenders anymore.

Last year he called Finn Russell’s red card against France for a similar offence “outrageous”. He was no less perplexed by van der Merwe’s straight red for a hand-off on Scotland squad colleague Kyle Rowe while playing for Worcester last weekend.

The prolific wing, with 10 tries in just 16 tests, has been banned for the rest of the Six Nations.

‘I’ve been scratching my head’

“I was really disappointed with the decision at the time, and I’ve been scratching my head ever since,” he 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 actually something which is celebrated.

“You’re allowed (in this circumstance) to put your hand in someone’s face, in the head area.”

In this case, he argued, both van der Merwe and Rowe were at full pace and the margins were fine.

“(Rowe) is upright trying to tackle him, and (van der Merwe) executes the hand-off. But on the way to doing that his forearm touches the player’s face,” he continued.

“That’s something which would have been celebrated as a great hand-off. To be sent off from the game and (banned) for three weeks, is ridiculous in my view.

‘We should be protecting the attacking player’

“World Rugby need to come out with a statement to make a distinction between something which is legal and encouraged in the game. Attempted hand-offs should not be in the same criteria as a high-tackle or a dangerous ruck clear.

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

Van der Merwe was “very upset” with the decision, said Townsend. Glasgow’s Kyle Steyn comes in to the left wing for Saturday’s game against Italy in Rome.

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