Ulster fans have were left furious yesterday, not so much at the nature of the red card handed to prop Andy Warwick, but rather that previous Leinster infringements didn’t warrant the same punishment.

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Table-toppers Leinster booked a spot in the PRO14 final after dispatching Ulster 19 – 38 in the Kingspan, but the sending off that swung the game was the talk of fans on social media.

World Rugby’s zero-tolerance approach to head contacts – off the back of a high-profile lawsuit in the UK – has seen red cards brandished at an alarming rate in recent months. Five were delivered across the water in the Gallagher Premiership last weekend, with a further two this weekend.

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Dan Lydiate talks to the Offload:

Warrick was given his marching orders by referee Frank Murphy after he fended Leinster prop Ed Byrne with a forearm that appeared to make brief contact with the Leinster prop’s neck. Murphy initially appeared to want to give the Ulsterman a yellow, but a discussion with the TMO Olly Hodges saw it upgraded it to a red card.

While the merits of the red for Warwick for an incident that might have been a penalty at worst a couple of years ago upset some Ulster fans, what was upsetting more was the apparent double standards on display.

Six foot ten Devin Toner’s yellow for a seatbelt tackle on Michael Lowry stood out as potentially being at least as grievous as Warwick’s indiscretion, but Leinster centre Jimmy O’Brien’s head contact with Ian Madigan objectively looked worse in the context of a game trying to minimise brain trauma.

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O’Brien collected Madigan with an upright tackle that saw him inadvertently headbutt the former Leinster standoff. O’Brien was yellow-carded, but it made it incredibly hard to justify the red card for Warwick later in the game.

BBC rugby pundit Stephen Watson tweeted: “I realise you don’t referee intent and by the letter of the law Warwick’s elbow is a red – but in that case surely the challenge by O’Brien on Madigan was a red too?”

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After the game Ulster head coach Dan McFarland said of the incident: “I’m certainly going to talk about them, but that will be done in private.”

The debate rumbles on.

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