Rugby Union: Tonga Allege Prejudice in IRB Officiating

Jeff Hull@@HullatHomeContributor IIIJune 10, 2013

WHANGAREI, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 14:  The scrumage lock down during the IRB 2011 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Tonga and Canada at Northland Events Centre on September 14, 2011 in Whangarei, New Zealand.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Tongan head coach Mana Otai has made a serious and controversial set of allegations in regard to how the International Rugby Board (IRB) officiates matches involving Pacific Island nations.

Following Tonga's dramatic and violent Pacific Nations Cup contest with Canada on June 8 in Kingston, Ontario, the Tongan coach had strong words regarding the decisions made in that match specifically, and in regard to matches involving Pacific Island nations in general.

Otai's comments are all the more controversial because of the violent nature of the match and the actions of his team's players, which were caught on video. The wild fixture, in which an almost unimaginable Tongan comeback fell just short, saw the Tongans reduced to 12 men for long periods of the second half. 

Canada went on to win the match 36-27.

Canada and London Irish back-row Jebb Sinclair seemed to agree that the game was abnormally physical.

One Tongan prop was red carded for throwing punches, while two members of their back line received yellow cards for dangerous tackles. After the match, Mana Otai spoke to Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press.

I had a look at both. I couldn't really see why (the yellow cards were issued). It's almost like, these days you know, when a black man is tackling harder than the other, it seems to be the way.

And I think some of the foreigners that are involved in our team now are starting to see that. It's just hard to battle or fight that stereotype, I guess. But I'm not taking away the fact that at times we do, I guess, make mistakes in terms of tackling — if I'm talking in general. But in today's game, I couldn't justify the two yellow cards.

Bleacher Report reached out to the IRB offices for comment concerning the allegations and was told that the IRB has no comment to make at this time.

Tongan prop Edmund Aholelei will meet with an IRB citing officer, as a matter of protocol, following his red card; however, the larger issue is certainly whether there is any truth to the allegations being made by the Tongans.

Bleacher Report has previously chronicled the widely recognized bias against developing rugby nations like Tonga—as well as Canada and the United States—in terms of scheduling at major international tournaments. The IRB's own statements in those regards hardly inspire confidence, but surely this is a completely different matter.

Fortunately, we have our own video evidence for you, our loyal Bleacher Report audience, to examine.

The match video, which appears below—unfortunately in its unedited form—does the job of giving insight into the incidents in question.

Use the forum below to let us know your take on what happened and what you think of Tonga's controversial claims. 

In the meantime, please use the video time line below to search out the appropriate moments in the June 8 match, or just enjoy the entire game. 

It was a wild show.

Video Time Line for June 8 Infractions:

41:00—A Canadian fast break down the far side of the field ends in a high tackle against a Canadian player. This results in a scuffle between the two teams and a penalty against Tonga.

43:30—Canada's hooker, Ray Barkwill, is caught with multiple punches from a Tongan player, as he attempts to clear a Tongan tackler out of the way. A maul in the middle of the field breaks into a flurry of punches, which in turn explodes in a more serious confrontation between multiple players.

After a meeting of the referees, Tonga's Edmund Aholelei is issued a straight red card for throwing punches after the referee had intervened.

Tonga are reduced to 14 men.

1:09:30—At 51 minutes into the second half, Canadian fullback James Pritchard takes a Tongan high kick and begins a counterattack. Seconds after he releases the ball, Pritchard receives a shoulder to the jaw from a charging Tongan defender. The Canadian lies motionless on the field for several moments.

The Tongan player is issued with a yellow card for foul play, forcing him to leave the field for 10 minutes.

Tonga are reduced to 13 men.

1:17:00—At 56 minutes of the second half, Canada receive a kickoff and move the ball to winger Matt Evans, who begins a run down the left side of the pitch. Evans passes the ball away. Close to a second later, Evans is caught with a jumping shoulder-tackle to the jaw. 

The blow comes close to knocking Evans unconscious, and he is stretchered off the field.

The Tongan player is given a yellow card for a dangerous tackle and sent off the field for 10 minutes.

Tonga are reduced to 12 men.

Scattered other moments of questionable conduct exist throughout the game for your enjoyment and analysis.

The Bleacher Report forum awaits your verdict.

Jeff Hull is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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