Was it a yellow or a red card? It’s a debate that has run on for the past week but, one which will undoubtedly be forgotten about come this weekend as the British and Irish Lions face South Africa in the final test.
Following increased scrutiny on refereeing in the game due to former Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus’s hour-long video, it’s easy to see why Cheslin Kolbe’s in-the-air tackle on Conor Murray has been debated so much.
Kolbe was handed a yellow card for taking out the Lions scrum-half which left both camps divisive on what the ultimate sanction should have been.
SuperSport’s “MasterPlan” panel of Swys de Bruin, Peter de Villiers and Robbi Kempson gave their input into the incident, with opinions varying somewhat.
It also raised the dilemma of how teams coach their players in similar situations. The general rule which determines whether someone like Kolbe would get a yellow card, red card or no sanction depends largely on what the offending player is doing before.
In Kolbe’s case, what saved him from a straight red was that his eyes were fixed on the ball all the time, meaning that he wasn’t recklessly charging into Murray who was in the air. Nor was his timing wildly out.
However, where the interpretation could differ is whether the decisions are action-based or outcome-based. If Murray had not reached out an arm to stop his head from hitting the ground, Kolbe would perhaps have been sent off.
But the referee call at the time was that Murray had landed on his back, bizarrely given that it was only his arm that prevented his head from taking the full impact of the fall.
Former South Africa coach de Villiers was his outspoken self again when discussing the matter: “I’m going to say something bad here, the laws of rugby have never been changed for the sake of the players, they have been changed so that referees can control the game better.
“The bigger player doesn’t want to come down to the level of the smaller player; the fastest players don’t want to go to the level of the guy who is slower and bigger.”
Kempson disagreed and said that while Kolbe probably didn’t deserve a red card on the ground of malicious intent in the challenge, the framework in which World Rugby referees have to act elevated the incident to a red.
“For me, within the law, that is a red card. They’ve got to protect the player that’s in the air, there’s no doubt about the law.”
De Bruin backed up de Villiers on his assessment of the colour of card, but insisted that it is up to the coaches to prepare their players with the specific interpretations in mind.
“We have got to coach within the law; if a player is poaching they’ve got to do it within the law. Hurting them or not hurting them, you’ve got to do it within the law.”