My solution to rugby’s card issue

I am sick of seeing players infringing because they know they are unlikely to be yellow carded. They are unlikely to be yellow carded because it is a first or second offence. They are then to be told they are now on a warning and that same thing will get them a yellow card. I […]

My solution to rugby’s card issue

I am sick of seeing players infringing because they know they are unlikely to be yellow carded.

They are unlikely to be yellow carded because it is a first or second offence. They are then to be told they are now on a warning and that same thing will get them a yellow card.

I understand the conundrum the referees are in. If they hand out yellow cards for the first offence, then players would pretty quickly accumulate two yellow cards, bringing up the whole red card game dilemma: that it ends up ruining the game as a contest and thus as a spectacle.

The red card dilemma is being addressed. This makes sense as red cards are not as rare as they used to be and will probably become more common. The adjustment to a red card, allowing a replacement after 20 minutes, is being trialled and is probably the right way to go.

But if the 20 minutes replacement adjustment becomes standard, the referee should still be able to enforce a no replacement sanction for offences like punching, squirrel grabbing and eye gouging. Those sorts of offences have no place in rugby.

But an adjustment to the application of the red card would do nothing to stop the epidemic of a low level of offending. A penalty that also results in a warning is either the second to last straw in a string of offences or a single, more egregious, offence that does not quite meet the yellow card threshold for a single offence. In both cases the offending team has eked out an advantage, basically manipulating the laws.

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

One aspect that should be paid more attention to is teams continuing to infringe when the opposition has penalty advantage. These offences should be counted towards the string of offences that is required to earn a yellow card, like they are separate penalties.

In most instances they are basically professional fouls, deliberately slowing down play and trying to stop scoring opportunities. As penalty advantage is probably the best attacking situation, any mistake reverts to a penalty for the attacking team.

Lots of teams cynically offend to stop scoring opportunities. The All Blacks under Richie McCaw made use of cynical penalties when the opposition was close to scoring, but mostly avoided yellow cards due to a lack of previous offending. The current Crusaders team could also be put in this category.

Though to many New Zealanders, the prime example of cynical play would be English killing the ball. You can say ‘good on them, play to the whistle’. But another way of looking at it is that cynical offending is snuffing out scoring opportunities, and causing many stoppages, both harming the spectacle. This means the laws need to changed, or actually enforced.

One solution that has been raised is for penalties to count toward a team foul. This is sort of in place now but it is not well defined and when it happens it is generally past the point where more serious sanctions should’ve already been applied.

The particulars of how a more defined team foul would work are unclear, such as do all penalty offences count the same? Is there a time limit for how long the offences count toward the team foul? Is the next player to offend the person who is yellow carded, or does the captain decide? A more developed team foul system would be a struggle to administer.

Sam Cane speaks to the referee

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Referees need additional tools to combat this type of offending. Intermediate steps between a penalty and a yellow card are required. One option is a super penalty for lack of a better phrase.

Give the team receiving the super penalty additional options. For example, the mark could be moved more than ten metres forward (based on the referee’s discretion), like in the NFL. An option to move the mark to the centre of the field such as setting up a midfield scrum, or making a kick for goal kick or touch easier. The restart (scrum or lineout) could be made non-contestable by the defending team. A further option could be the option to automatically convert the super penalty to three points. These additional options would also be offered when a yellow or red card is sanctioned.

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Going further, perhaps all lineouts and scrums resulting from penalties should be made non-contestable. A good set piece negates the cost of a penalty, such as if the defending team’s lineout or scrum is markedly better than the team that receives the penalty.

Perhaps a simpler option is instead of just a warning, the offending player also receives a two-minute or five-minute penalty in the bin. That could be enough of a deterrent to make them play within the laws. Any player who accrued more than 20 minutes would earn a red card.

There will no doubt be some resistance to that idea. People argued against the yellow card for years, saying that the personnel changes would mess up the flow of the game. But most decent sides can now deal with multiple changes without losing cohesion. Players regularly come on and off the field for the blood bin and head injury assessment. The addition of a two-minute or five-minute sin bin would not be unworkable.

Rob Simmons yellow card

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The yellow card was resisted, at international level, until the late 1990s. But no one would say the yellow card has had anything but a positive impact on the game. The yellow card gives referees more nuance to deal with offending, like when they expanded its use to combat professional fouls.

The infamous Michael Brial/Frank Bunce incident from 1996 made the IRB realise that more just than the red card was required. As an aside, it is amazing that a red card was not sanctioned in that instance. Brial should’ve been red carded and banned for the season.

One extreme option would be to make persistent, cynical, offending punishable by the judiciary. Allowing players to receive a suspension would be a massive deterrent. If that extreme outcome was used the judiciary would realistically only be able to suspend players for offending that was recognised by the officials on the field during the game.

A citing system for cynical offending would be a logistical nightmare, due there being far more potential events to review. It would also be a pseudo-public review of refereeing decisions, which is a route World Rugby does not seem to want to go down.

There are teams that seek to cynically flout the laws of the game. This generally results in a spectacle that is only enjoyed by the supporters of the team who are flouting the laws, or nobody at all.

Some of the potential solutions I suggest are new while some are currently in place – or they are supposed to be – but require more stringent enforcement. Rugby is no longer a game of talented amateurs, but a game of professionals who are providing entertainment for a paying audience. The laws should be written and enforced to recognise this.

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Six talking points from Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa

If last weekend was a taster then this weekend was a full-on buffet of Super Rugby with so much to gorge on and enjoy. Both competitions – AU and Aotearoa – were in full flight and there was lots for fans to get stuck into. We won’t get to see any trans-Tasman matchups for a […]

Six talking points from Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa

If last weekend was a taster then this weekend was a full-on buffet of Super Rugby with so much to gorge on and enjoy.

Both competitions – AU and Aotearoa – were in full flight and there was lots for fans to get stuck into.

We won’t get to see any trans-Tasman matchups for a while yet but there’s plenty to talk about with the weekly local derbies. The Kiwi teams certainly started well and there weren’t too many signs of early-season errors. Meanwhile, in Australia, there was one incredibly tight game and one absolute blow out as both the Reds and the Brumbies kept marching on unbeaten.

Lots of rugby, lots to get excited about and lots to talk about – is this going to be the Blues’ year? Is Suliasi Vunivalu the most exciting new talent to join Super Rugby ever? Is anyone playing better rugby in the southern hemisphere than Ardie Savea at the moment? And those are just the questions we didn’t have time to cover properly.

So let’s get talking…

Matt Toomua makes the Wallabies flyhalf race more exciting
Last week there was plenty to like about the performances of James O’Connor and Noah Lolesio and debates started straight away about who should be the Wallabies #10. But this week we got to see another contender put his hand up as Matt Toomua entered the competition.

The Rebels might not have played an inspiring style of rugby against JOC’s Reds and they were also on the losing side of that contest, but Toomua put in a very good performance in terms of game management and executing a strategy that came so close to upsetting the home team.

Toomua seemed more comfortable and effective off first phase ball as well as the slow ball from his forwards and was able to direct his team well around the Suncorp pitch. JOC, on the other hand, didn’t seem as comfortable as his team struggled to adapt when their Plan A wasn’t working.

Toomua didn’t have a perfect game by any means. He missed the crucial kick at the end and also fell for Alex Mafi’s dummy just before the hooker scored the try that gave the Reds the winning lead. But Toomua was able to stand out for a good performance even though his team lost. The race between him, JOC and Lolesio will be very exciting to watch this season.

(William West/AFP via Getty Images)

Do the Crusaders have a discipline problem?
The Crusaders were their usual clinical selves against the Highlanders, scoring tries in all sorts of manners and walking away with a solid win. However, they conceded 15 penalties and had two players yellow carded – the first being Ethan Blackadder after just 23 minutes for repeat team infringements. That’s pretty impressive to wind the ref up that much that quickly.

In the past two games the Crusaders have received five yellow cards. Yes, one of those games was a trial match so it doesn’t count towards the competition, but then to lose three players in a trial game seems like a bit of a problem.

Many of the very best players have always played on the edge of the rules and often mastered how far they can stretch them without breaking them, or perhaps without getting caught. But the Crusaders seem to be getting themselves on the wrong side of that equation and are getting caught, again and again and again and again.

Scott Robertson dismissed the suggestion that his team had an issue but you have to think that he isn’t happy with giving the opposition 15 penalties in one game and having 14 men on the pitch for a quarter of the entire game.

Of course, it might not be the Crusaders’ fault. In a great example of “it’s not me, it’s you!” as teams might be feeling that actually, it’s the refs who are getting a bit whistle-happy at the moment. In the Reds vs Rebels game, the ref blew for 32 penalties – 20 of which came in the first half. There were 27 as the Blues took on the Hurricanes on Saturday as well.

Is this part of the referees’ plan to be overly strict in the opening rounds before relaxing a bit once teams have learnt their lesson? Is this bad refereeing or have teams just been getting away with far too much in previous seasons?

Richie Mo'unga of the Crusaders looks to kick

(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Hitting rucks – damned if you do and damned if you don’t?
In rugby around the world, there has been plenty of talk about how players can and cannot hit the ruck. This weekend, the Reds lost Feao Fotuaika for a dangerous cleanout as he hit Rebels backrower Richard Hardwick in the head according to the ref. As the discussion about head injuries and the long-term risks of concussion haunt rugby at all levels, the red card to Fotuaika does raise two questions.

Firstly – what are players thinking when they do this? They know that is a dangerous technique, that they could very well hurt a fellow player very seriously and they know that the ref is likely to card them for such an action. With the current focus on the breakdown and the incredible number of cameras and angles for refs to refer to, dangerous clearouts at the ruck are not worth the risk. So why do they keep doing it?

Secondly – what do we expect players to do? If the opposition have got a good jacking position and are nice and low, then how are you meant to clear them out if not by hitting them at pace to destabilise them? You can’t get under the player as they are already low and there are likely to be bodies in the way.

Are you meant to sit back and just leave them to it? Should you try the crocodile move and look to twist them off to the side (which comes with its own dangers)? Of course, we don’t want players getting injured and certainly not anywhere near the neck or head area. But we also want the ruck to be a competitive part of the game where both teams know that they can and can’t do.

Inaccuracy keeps costing the Highlanders
The Highlanders will watch back the replay of their loss to the Crusaders and be frustrated. Yes, the Crusaders are a very, very good side but the Highlanders had their chances on the weekend to challenge the champions and will be disappointed at their inability to finish off opportunities.

In the first half especially they dominated possession and territory massively and the Crusaders were giving away penalties like they were going out of fashion. But a combination of inaccuracy and poor decision making meant that the home side didn’t turn that pressure into points and the Crusaders were let off the hook.

The Highlanders played some really nice rugby at points and they will again, but if they can’t turn all those trips to the opposition’s 22 into points then they will be propping up the Aotearoa competition.

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Speaking of wooden spoons…
In the Super Rugby AU competition, the games this weekend will have forced many fans and pundits to re-examine their predictions for final rankings. The Tahs losing by so many in Canberra and the Rebels losing by so few in Brisbane, then throw in the fact that the Force are notably better this year than last year and it will be a great competition for mid-table.

Unfortunately for the Tahs you really do feel that the wooden spoon engraver is already getting out the letters N, S and W. Yes they’ve played on the road in both of the opening two games but they have conceded so many points, looked so ineffective in both games and lost key man Jake Gordon.

The term “rebuilding” has already been used to try and soften the criticism on the Tahs and questions are being asked about Rob Penney’s future with the club. Those clouds can only be blown away by wins on game day and you just can’t see those coming any time soon.

Waratahs coach Rob Penney is seen during the warm-up

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

And finally a question for you all – should you play on after the final whistle when you can’t win?
As the final siren sounded at GIO Stadium, the Tahs continued to play on. The scoreboard made it clear that there really was nothing to be gained – a win or draw certainly wasn’t on the cards and there was no chance of a useful bonus point. So why keep playing?

Some will say that it’s about professionalism and never giving in and maybe getting that unlikely try that gives the team something positive to hang on to when they do the review on Monday. Really? The Tahs lost by over 50 points – do we really think that the review session would have been different if that gap had been 43 points?

What is more likely to happen is that someone gets injured and the Tahs certainly can’t cope with another injury to one of their playing group.

So why not kick the ball into touch, end the pain, shake hands and head to the bus as quickly as possible?

What do you think – is it worth playing on?

Source : The Roar More   

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