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Yellow cards on the march in rugby

Super Rugby | 08 August 2017 | Adam Julian

Yellow cards on the march in rugby

In 141 Super Rugby matches this year there were 143 yellow cards. That’s an average of one a game and an increase of 49 on the 2016 tally of 94.

The desire to remove cynical and foul play with tougher sanctions is of course honourable. Greater penalties for head contact will make the game safer, but with an average of a yellow card a match is the fairness of the contest and the quality of the spectacle being reduced by over cautious officiating?

Removing a player is a penalty that carries huge consequences. It opens up more space in the opposition defence and saps the energy of others as it forces each individual to work harder.

It’s not a surprise five of the six least disciplined teams in 2017 finished in the bottom third of the competition. Would the Lions have really drawn the series against the All Blacks if the latter wasn’t reduced to 14 players for 65 minutes?

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The referees aren’t entirely at fault for the proliferation of cards. They are under instructions from lawmakers to be vigilant and not consider intent. Their job is tough and with decreasing numbers of referees at the grassroots level, I am reluctant to be too critical. However, there must be a way of being vigilant and retaining 15 players on 15.  

In the NRL only 36 players have been sin binned this year and even that is a remarkably high. The harsher laws around slapping the ball down have seen more players sin binned in 2017 than the previous two years combined. Granted rugby is less structured and has more intricate laws, but the NRL invariably remains numerically even.

Australian Rules football has flourished for 120 years without cards. Acts of foul play have occurred, but been dealt with by the judiciary. Rugby has a judiciary. Why not increase the penalties for foul play at the judiciary? Perhaps players and even franchises can be fined for abuse of the laws.

Could rugby adopt football’s yellow card system where a yellow card would be a serious warning and red cards are issued sparingly?

Why not make greater use of the penalty try? If a team repeatedly infringes a penalty try could be rewarded regardless of where play is on the field. Conceding points would be a massive deterrent.

Beauden Barrett was sent off for the Hurricanes against the Waratahs for slapping the ball down twice and then yellow carded in the semi-final for sealing off the ball. These aren’t malicious acts. Why not reward a penalty try instead of deperving millions of spectators the chance to watch the world’s best player? As a shareholder in the game we want to see the best players on the field the whole time.

The issuing of cards in rugby has become to arbitrary and pedantic. If on average every game sees a player carded teams should start training with 14 men to better prepare themselves for the inevitable card. If that happens the the rules are flawed even before kick-off.

Rugby needs to discuss how to keep the players on the field while retaining a safe and entertaining spectacle. Rugby is a 15-man sport.

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