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Sledging, such as slapping opposition players in the head, is as big a problem in rugby as diving is in soccer, according to Brian O’Driscoll.

The former Ireland captain was speaking on Friday’s Off The Ball and spoke about the issue, particularly in relation to England’s win over Wales in the Six Nations.

“Well, if your captain’s doing it in the sixth or seventh minute [the rest will follow suit]. I’m a really big Owen Farrell fan but he gave away a couple of penalties in the first half, particularly that one.

“If you’re looking for your leader to behave that way and set the tone that way what do you expect of the rest of the side?

“[Farrell’s foul against North] was more than a taunt. He gave him a good shove in the head.

“George North had his try disallowed because he knocked the ball on over the line and straight away Farrell’s lying on top of him and he slapped him in the head,” O’Driscoll said.

The former Leinster player believes the issue has gotten out of control in recent times and called on officials to take a tougher stance against it.

“I’d a couple of pints with Denis Hickie last weekend and we were talking about it and I think he absolutely nailed it when he said, ‘This type of sledging and head patting is our diving. It’s rugby’s diving.’

“It’s a bane on the game and I think if referees don’t get hold of it very quickly it’s going to run out of control.

“You can’t stop the back slapping and the players running in from afar but I think you cannot make contact with the opposition in any shape or form.

“It took the referee, Ben O'Keeffe, seconds to reverse the penalty. For me, that’s an immediate penalty reversal.

“If you’re slapping someone on the head you’ve got to start considering putting someone in the sin bin for it because that’s the only way you’re going to eradicate it,” O’Driscoll commented.

With high-profile players regularly attempting to wind up opposition players off the ball and facing at most minor consequences, the former Lions captain feels many more players will follow suit.

“It annoys me a lot. It’s a problem in the game and if you’re having the England captain doing it the knock-on effect is that you’re going to have other guys reacting stupidly as well,” O’Driscoll said.

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