World Rugby once again finds itself at a crossroads when it comes to player safety. As many of club rugby’s premier competitions close in on play-off action, the steep rise in red and yellow cards has been noticeable.
Take for example the twenty-eight cards that were dished out across the Champions Cup last sixteen second leg ties. In a number of tight ties most noticeably the Ulster vs Toulouse match up, both fixtures featured a red card.
In the end the defending champions (Toulouse) edged the series by a single point. Ulster who appeared to be in the ascendancy following their away win in the first clash, failed to progress in no small part due to Tighthead prop Tom O’Toole’s 65th minute sending off.
The card itself was once again another head high shot with little mitigation, this left referee Matthew Carly with no choice but to show a red card.
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In the southern hemisphere the situation is not much better. Super Pacific have been trialling the 20-minute red card, the move appears to have made players even less concerned about the consequences of being sent off.
The rule itself allows a team who has received a red card to send on a substitute in place of the sent off player.
So, the question is who is to blame for this mess that all levels of professional rugby are now dealing with?
Two All Black Legends John Kirwan and Jeff Wilson believes that issues lie at the feet of the players.
“What do we need to do then? Do we need to start fining players? How are we going to have change? We are continuing to let our game fall into this. You’ve got to plan for it,” Kirwan said.
Wilson was in full agreement as he was clearly agitated by the number of fixtures being affected by the sending offs.
“I’m getting frustrated right now because I’m not seeing any changes in behaviour from the players. They are the ones that are responsible. We are quite often putting it on the referees, putting the challenge on them,” Wilson concluded.
Interestingly Kirwan and Wilson were recently in conversation with current All Blacks coach Ian Foster, who felt the onus lay with the coaches.
“You don’t see a lot of red cards for the tackler hitting the ball-carrier high, the problem seems to be the tackle-assist. It’s the second guy coming in. I think it’s one of the things in the games in which defence coaches are trying to get two in the tackle to win that collision,” He said.
Despite these opinions from the experts, several fans believe that the referees and law makers have a hand in the issues. This was put the United Rugby Championship’s head of officiating Tappe Henning in a recent interview that he did for Wales Online.
The South African who is a former test referee believes that there are a multitude of reasons for the current spate of cards and more crucial the debate about where the blame lies.
“The information available to the public now is so much more via the broadcasters. It is putting a lot of incidents out there for people to look at and scrutinise for accuracy and that has created more pressure. Refereeing decisions are so exposed and discussed because it’s much more available. It goes on Twitter and all social media and that creates a perception that the match officials are poor or not as good as the previous ones, like Derek Bevan. But the technology wasn’t the same when Derek refereed. That’s not an excuse, we understand that,” he said.
And he’s replaced after 20 minutes 😡https://t.co/4cv8Yl0xk7
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When asked about the 2-minute red card trial, Henning could see both sides of the trial as he brings up the very valid point of fan engagement and enjoyment.
“There is a lot of information being collected to see the impact it has on a competition. We have to protect the integrity of 80-minute rugby and the enjoyment of someone who has paid to see 15 against 15, only for it to be spoiled after two minutes by a red card,” He Said.
“The other side of the coin is if you want to change player behaviour, with head shots and things, the punishment must fit the crime. How do you change behaviour with soft decisions? There must be a tangible consequence for players to realise they must take more care on how they handle themselves on the pitch. If the punishment does not fit the crime, it is not going to change the behaviour,” He Continued.
Despite all of the negativity surround the issues Henning does believe that the game is going in the right direction.
“There is an improvement. Players are much more aware and the decision-making by defenders is getting better as they move into a tackle. We are seeing an effort to get head and arm in the right place to make sure two heads are not in the same space,” He said.
What do you make of the current state of affairs? Let us know in the comments section below or on Facebook.