Kobus Wiese, ex-Springbok man-mountain, commentator and World Cup-winner, had an interesting take on Sam Warburton’s red card in the Welsh loss to France.
“Take away the red card and cite somebody afterwards to keep the game fair. There’s nothing wrong with protecting players but maybe it’s time that the red card was ruled out of rugby – I’m not saying if there’s a dangerous tackle people should not punished, but rather do it after the game. There must always be a fair contest. So use a yellow card.”
In fairness to the big man, I’m cherry-picking some of his quotes out of context. He says in this piece in The Guardian that he thinks Alain Rolland made the right call given the laws laid down, but he just doesn’t agree with the law. It’s an interesting point: punish the individual who has committed the offence, don’t punish the team or the spectators.
On the other hand, let the Mole lay out a scenario where red cards don’t exist in rugby:
Declan Kidney identifies Rhys Priestland as the key man on the Welsh side in the quarter-final, and then selects [for example] Denis Leamy or Shane Jennings in the starting line-up. Their role is solely to go out and try and maim Priestland, getting him off the pitch and forcing Gatland to bring on a new goal-kicker and out-half. Leamy/Jennings takes the field primed to kick the sh*t out of Priestland, shoe him in the head, spear him, short arm him, late tackle him all day until he has to leave the field for good.
Twelve minutes into the match and the chance arises. Leamy/Jennings spears Priestland intentionally, concussing him but not knocking out of the game. As a result of the foul play, Leamy/Jennings is sin-binned for ten minutes. Priestland stays on but is in la-la land and not at his best – he misses an easy place kick, and sends a touchfinder over the line without a bounce, bringing Ireland back for a lineout just outside the Welsh 22.
The 10 minute sin-binning expired, Leamy/Jennings comes out of the bin and at the next opportunity high tackles Priestland, or maybe kicks him in the head at a ruck. The Irish lad is sent to the sin-bin again – because there’s no red card, because you don’t want to ‘ruin the game’ for supporters by having 14 play 15 for an extended period – but Priestland is rightly clobbered this time [broken nose, doesn’t know where he is, blurred vision] and has to go off.
James Hook comes on and has the type of ineffective game he had against France, and Ireland scrape a win when he misses a late kick. In the aftermath of the game, Leamy/Jennings is cited and banned for 26 weeks, but big deal, Ireland are in the semi-final and the tactic has worked. Ireland aren’t missing any of their first choice back-row for the next match, and they still have a guy [whichever one of Leamy/Jennings wasn’t used as a hatchet man] to sit on the bench for the semi. Behind closed doors, everyone in the Irish squad thinks that Leamy/Jennings has taken the biggest one ever for the team and donates them their bonus for getting to a RWC semi-final. Even at home, he builds up a cult status as a hard-man and uber-professional, the guy who set aside dreams of personal glory for the sake of the team.
Now turn that around and have Andy Powell starting for Wales, spearing Jon Sexton [this is a parallel universe, after all] within the first couple of minutes and breaking his collarbone. Sexton is out of the tournament, Powell misses 10 minutes of the game and the next twelve weeks of rugby, and Wales get through to the semi-final. So what? He wasn’t going to start in that game anyway.
Or say for example, at the first breakdown of a test, Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu pick up Brian O’Driscoll at the back of a ruck when the ball is gone, turn him upside down and spear him, dislocating his shoulder and putting him out of rugby for the guts of 5 months, leaving him with chronic nerve damage that leads to repeated stingers when he tackles for the remainder of his career. The captain of a touring team that is assembled once every four years is out of the test series within the first couple of minutes, while the two players who intentionally speared him start the next three matches.
The sanction of red cards are vital to the game.