During the bloodbath at Kingsholm on Saturday afternoon, which saw five yellow and two red cards, the most shocking incident was Tavis Knoyle’s punch. Bath were awarded a last minute penalty try and the Gloucester player lost it and landed a ferocious punch into a Bath face. As a result, he was sent-off, leaving Gloucester to finish the match with just eleven men. By no means was this the worst punch ever thrown on a rugby field, but here are five that quite possibly might be.
#5 - Schalk Brits vs Owen Farrell
During the first game of the recent British and Irish Lions tour to Australia, Saracens hooker Schalk Brits was enjoying the honour of playing for the world-famous Barbarians. However, just seven minutes into the game, he was sin-binned. Lions fly-half and Sarries teammate Owen Farrell was making a nuisance of himself by holding Brits into the ruck, when he lost the plot. There was no love lost between the pair as Brits swung a ferocious left-handed punch into Farrell’s face. A yellow card seemed rather lenient and the referee explained his decision by saying, “Because of the game it’s just a yellow.” It should make no difference whether it takes place in the first ever Bar-Bars vs Lions match or not. It was a poor decision; it should have been red.
#4 - Alesana Tuilagi vs Lewis Moody
When Samoa visited Twickenham in 2005 as part of the Autumn International Series, it was always likely to be a physical encounter. The Pacific Islanders didn’t disappoint, with huge hits all around the field. However, with just over four minutes left to play, Alesana Tuilagi put in one hit that he would seriously regret. England fly-half, Charlie Hodgson, kicked the ball over the top for Mark Cueto to chase. Cueto collected the ball on the bounce, but as he jumped to collect it, the big Samoan winger crashed into his knees, sending him somersaulting through the air. This was not the first time in the match that Cueto had been targeted, so his teammates piled in on Tuilagi. Lewis Moody, the England captain, came in and threw multiple uppercuts into the face and body of Tuilagi, who reacted with a few of his own. Rightly, both players were shown red cards.
#3 – Rabah Slimani vs Michele Rizzo
The Six Nations second round clash between Italy and France this year was not a particularly enthralling match, but it was overshadowed by a few moments of madness by two props. France’s Rabah Slimani and Italy’s Michele Rizzo clashed after both front rows stood up in a scrum. It wasn’t Rizzo’s punch that made put this incident into the top five; it was the two headbutts that preceded it. Rizzo laid his head into Slimani, who retaliated with an unbelievably ferocious headbutt into the Italian’s face. Both of the props were sent off, yet surprisingly there was minimal claret on either player.
#2 – Manu Tuilagi vs Chris Ashton
In the 2011 Aviva Premiership Semi-Final between Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints, things were getting a bit feisty with a few dangerous tackles flying in. After Northampton had taken a quick-tap penalty from one of these tackles, there was an incident off the ball involving Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi and Saints winger Chris Ashton. As Ashton went to support the Northampton attack, Tuilagi stuck out his arm and ‘clotheslined’ his England teammate. Unsurprisingly, Ashton wasn’t particularly pleased with this unprovoked attack, so shoved Tuilagi in the back. Tuilagi decided on a more vicious approach. He threw two huge left-handed punches before hitting Ashton square in the face with a right hook. A poor call from the assistant referee saw both players receiving yellow cards when Ashton should have stayed on the pitch and Tuilagi should have had a red.
#1 – Duncan McRae vs Ronan O’Gara
In 2001, the Lions knew that their tour to Australia would be physical and difficult. What they probably didn’t expect though, was to have their fly-half assaulted in a provincial warm-up match. The match against the New South Wales Waratahs was very physical with various scraps and scuffles all over the field. One of these became infamous. Ronan O’Gara had been left at the bottom of a ruck, pinned by the Waratahs full-back, Duncan McRae. What happened next was vile and ultimately dangerous. McRae cowardly beat the defenseless O’Gara with eleven punches to the face. The Irishman was left with his eye swollen shut and a bloodied face. He needed eighteen stitches in his eye. McRae, on the other hand, received a red card, a seven week ban and a lifetime of infamy.