The tsunami of response to revisiting the question of whether changes are needed to the red card system has been ignited by New Zealand referee Brendon Pickerill’s decision to send off Reds Captain, Scott Higginbotham, in their opening match against the Melbourne Rebels last Friday. Recent results have proven that an early red-card send off have resulted in obscuring the final result so much so that the offending team usually loses. This can be exemplified last year when the mighty All Blacks were dealt a fatal blow when Sonny Bill Williams was red-carded against the British & Irish Lions in their second test match denying them the win and consequently a record series white-wash. Wallabies prop, Sekope Kefu, was red-carded against Scotland in their end of season match which resulted in losing the test match 53-24. Also, in 2011, Welsh captain, Sam Warburton, was sent off early in their World Cup quarter-final match against the Wallabies and subsequently suffered defeat and being knocked out of the tournament (see more).
Therefore, it can be demonstrated the devastating effect of a red card, especially early in a match. It can be argued, and heavily was debated by Reds fans, that the Higginbotham dismissal in the first 10 minutes of the Reds opening Super Rugby match had a devastating effect on the final result. Losing your leader so early in a match denies the team the attacking momentum and direction for such a young team and that was noticeable. However, to start questioning the referee’s decision is going against the fundamental principle of rugby, which has been ingrained in our heads since we first picked up the ball. As I have consistently reiterated throughout my rugby career that if there was no referee there is no game and they should be considered sacrosanct. Whether it was Paddy O’Brien, head of World Rugby’s referees, or another official, the decision to protect player welfare is paramount to the continuation of rugby union. An official line in the sand has been drawn and the decision to award a red card when a tackle to the head is enacted, regardless of how much force appears to have or have not occurred.
Players should be taught how to tackle properly and that anything high should be obliterated from the game. The fact that a player of Quade Cooper’s pedigree, having played over sixty tests for the Wallabies, can consistently be sent off for high tackles is astonishing. How can a player come out of such a rugby nursery as Church of England Grammar School’s 1stXV and not be able to tackle is incredulous? Maybe Brad Thorn has a point in his axing.
Player well-fare is the real question that has to be addressed and proper coaching from the grassroots up is the key. Take the emotion out the equation and have a real discussion about how we want OUR game to progress. It is still a contact sport, but we no longer send Christians to the lions, so a little bit of cool-headed clarity is needed.