Jon Wilkin calls for changing guidelines on tackle height amidst John Asiata debate

Debate has raged since Saturday’s Challenge Cup semi-final in regards to the tackles by Leigh Leopard’s John Asiata and the injuries sustained by four St Helens players, but now there’s been a voice of reason with pundit Jon Wilkin suggesting that the weekend’s incidents raise a new conversation about tackle heights.

Wilkin is a former St Helens captain but he was quick to clarify his bias and put it aside when speaking on Sky Sports’ Rugby League Verdict.

“Well, look, I think there’s two things to say. One is for people who don’t know, I’ve formerly played for St Helens, so there’ll be an assumption that my opinion on this is based upon my allegiance to that club. I can tell you that my opinion on this has nothing to do with that.

“I thought Leigh were the better team and deserved to win the game and these incidents shouldn’t overshadow what was a great performance from Leigh but it’s certainly a talking point.”

The incidents in question saw Leigh skipper Asiata go low on numerous tackles in an attempt to prevent Saints big men getting the march on him, with the tackle on Agnatius Paasi saving a try.

It was also the tackle on Paasi that has caused the most debate with Asiata going low towards the knees, but given the impact from the other side by the second tackle Oliver Holmes it causes a motion that sees Paasi’s badly damaged.

“Blown to smithereens” was how Paul Wellens described that knee in the immediate aftermath but it’s since been revealed to be an ACL, MCL and ankle ligament injuries which will sideline the forward for nine months.

Three other Saints copped injuries with the next most significant being a three month layoff for Alex Walmsley with a damaged MCL.

Plenty of talk has been fuelled by Paul Wellens press conference in which he called for RFL action, something that Wilkin also did on the Rugby League Verdict.

“The second thing is John Asiata, the player in question, is an incredible player, a tough player, has been one of the best players in Super League this year and I’ve thought long and hard about whether it’s even worth me coming out and saying anything about this, about what I actually think about it because I just opened myself up to a barrage of abuse which I’m more than willing to take.

“It’s reckless, it’s dangerous, it’s career-ending and in my opinion it’s not malicious at all but the techniques that John Asiata used in the game has no place in the sport.”

That echoed some of Paul Wellens sentiments but Wilkin then suggested that the RFL need to address low tackles, just as much as they do high shots in relation to concussive blows.

“For me, I watched it live and because it was such a strange thing, we’re obsessed with tackle height in rugby, there’s two things to consider. John Asiata tackling like that has opened himself up to concussive injuries.

“The only time I got concussed as a player was when I tackled too low. so we need to get this tackle height discussion out of the narrative that surrounds the game because tackle height is not the issue, defending players often get knocked out more than attacking players.

“What John Asiata has done is recklessly and committedly gone in at the lower limbs of players not with the intention of causing injury but the intention of felling them.

“Now if he’d have done that same technique and other people had been in the tackle he would have been sent clean off because it’s a cannonball tackle.

“I’ve sat on the laws committee so I know exactly what goes on in those meetings and if we want to get into it we can talk about those meetings, because I’m telling you back in the day there’s not much goes on in those.  They’re talking about all this fluffy stuff.

“Agnatius Paasi has ruptured all of the ligaments in his ankle. He’s ruptured his MCL, he’s ruptured his ACL. It’s a career-ending injury and this isn’t an attack at John Asiata and it’s certainly not an attack at Leigh but if you’re true about protecting the welfare of players, at least show him that that tackle or that form of contact with lower limbs is not allowed in the game.

“What if next week he does three? What if next week he does five? What if by accident he does another one or two before the end of the year? Then what’s going to happen? Well, the laws are going to have to catch up and I think it’s desperately sad that this has become about sort of bitterness from St Helens about losing in the Cup.

“It’s seriously not. It’s about protecting the welfare of players.  We’re obsessed with head contacts in the game. Well, there’s other dangerous contacts and for me, this was incredibly dangerous contact with several players and I think it’s a weak decision from the RFL as outlined by Paul Wellens.”