Don’t let red cards ruin rugby matches


A team should be allowed to replace a red-carded player with another player after 20 minutes, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.

I was really looking forward to Saturday’s World Cup match between England and Argentina.

England had won their opening two games against Tonga and the USA and were set to be tested for the first time at the tournament by a Pumas team that had been unlucky to lose their opening match against France and had to win this one to keep their quarter-final hopes alive.

Argentina hooker Agustín Creevy had described England as ‘boring’ and claimed the match would be ‘like a war’, which added to the hype.

The atmosphere at Tokyo Stadium during the opening minutes of the game appeared to be fantastic – with fans singing in the stands – and we looked set for an intriguing, closely contested clash.

Then, in the 17th minute, Argentina lock Tomas Lavanini was red-carded for a dangerous tackle and the game, as a contest, was effectively over. England were never going to lose against 14 men and they predictably went on to claim a comfortable win.

I’ve spoken to several rugby fans since and they all told me they stopped watching the game when Lavanini was sent off, because the result had become a foregone conclusion. And that, for the sport, is an obvious problem.

Let’s get one thing straight – referee Nigel Owens was correct to show Lavanini a red card. He followed World Rugby’s high-tackle framework to the letter and had no choice but to give the player his marching orders.

However, the fact remains that the red card ruined the game much like how Kwagga Smith’s red card spoiled the 2017 Super Rugby final between the Lions and Crusaders at Ellis Park.

This situation could be prevented by allowing a team to replace a player who has been red-carded with another player after 20 minutes. The team would still be punished by having to play with 14 men for a significant period of time, while the red-carded player would receive an appropriate suspension.

The fans, though, wouldn’t be punished by having the game reduced to a non-contest. After 20 minutes, it would be 15 vs 15 again, and the red-carded team would still have a realistic chance of winning it.

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Photo: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA