Tongan winger Aisea Halo probably counted himself lucky to only receive a yellow card during his side’s 60-14 defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield last weekend.
The visitors were soundly beaten by a youthful Scottish side that featured nine new caps in the matchday squad. Already out of the game by the half-time break, Tonga did get a couple of scores but were never really in contention.
So, when Halo was sent to the sin-bin for 10-minutes of reflective time, another onslaught was on the cards.
The incident for which Halo was punished was that he took McLean out in the air when the debutant was attempting to catch the up-and-under. But what didn’t seem to be looked at was a stray elbow contacting McLean’s face as the pair leapt for the ball.
Match commentators Mark Robson and former England scrum-half Dewi Morris had differing views on whether the incident warranted a yellow or, by World Rugby’s protocol, a red card.
Although Robson most likely felt a red was unnecessary for what was ultimately a clumsy but fairly innocuous elbow to the face of McLean, the guidelines on head contact from World Rugby meant that a red was a very possible outcome.
It’s clear that Halo jumped for the ball, despite over-running where it landed, and accidentally clipped McLean with his elbow. Although sanctions are not intent-based, a red card for this incident for Halo would certainly have been the wrong call, something which Morris was quick to point out.
In the end, the yellow card was brandished for a simple taking the man out in the air, rather than the elbow to the face. However, these sorts of incidents could lead to far more players being sent off for seemingly accidental and low risk contact in the future.