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As Six Nations red cards fly one side has kept a clean sheet for 23 years

By Ian Cameron
France's tight head prop Mohamed Haouas (R/#3) reacts after being issued with a red card by Georgian referee Nika Amashukeli (R) during the Six Nations rugby union tournament match between France and Scotland at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, northern Paris, on February 26, 2023. (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP) (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s hardly a secret that there has seen a significant increase in red cards in recent years in rugby union – and the Guinness Six Nations has been no exception.

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Not so long ago a rarity in the sport, sendings off have become the inevitable cost of a clamp down on head contacts in rugby union. As players continue to adjust to stricter Laws and a changing emphasis on safety, it’s been a slow and at times painful process.

We take a look at the red cards in the Six Nations over the course of the last decade, thanks to data from Opta.

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According to stats from the decade spanning 2014 to 2023, there have been a total of 15 red cards in the tournament. That’s a rate of one red card every 10 games.

However, 12 of those came in the last four tournaments alone, which is a rate of one red card in every five games.

In 2014, there were three red cards, with one each for Italy, Scotland, and France. But that was an anomaly year, with the 2015 to 2019 tournaments not seeing a single red card across 75 games.

Yet in 2020, things started to change, with two reds card handed out; one a piece to England and France.

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2021 was an annus horribilis for players being sent off – with five red cards across the tournament, a rate of one every three games.

Data suggests that the increase in red cards is not limited to a specific team. France and Scotland have the highest number of red cards, with four each, over the last decade.

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England, Ireland and Italy have also had players sent off. This trend indicates that the issue is widespread, and all teams must take measures to improve player discipline and safety.

Interestingly, Wales haven’t received a single red in the last decade, whereas every single other nation has gotten at least one. In fact, Wales haven’t received a single red since Italy joined the competition in 2000.

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The data also shows that generally speaking, players aren’t more prone to receiving red cards than others at least in the narrow sweep of the Six Nations.

France tighthead Mohamed Haouas might be the exception. He has received two red cards, while Manu Tuilagi, Charlie Ewels, Freddie Steward, Peter O’Mahony, Bundee Aki, Rabah Slimani, Paul Willemse, Grant Gilchrist, Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Zander Fagerson, Michele Rizzo, and Hame Faiva have all received one.

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Jon 4 hours ago
British & Irish Lions free agent open to Super Rugby switch

There are a couple of teams who could use a stop gap experienced head. Blues - I’m not sure the Blues have signed a replacement for Caleb Tangitau (if he hasn’t been let go to make room for Barrett) yet, or whether Reiko is going on sabbatical and/or will remain in the squad. With exciting young French player Xavi Taele looking destined for higher honors in black, talented breakthrough rookie Cory Evan’s, and a couple of utilities, in AJ Lam and Bryce Heem(even Clarke?), all trying to learn the midfield trade, Williams could be a great aid. The Blues signed key English center Joe Marchant before he was raised to that level, and were possibly in the hunt to bring back the dependable Tele’a from the Highlanders. Possible the main squeeze which would put to bed any signing here would be the battle at 10 with Beauden’s return, and the forcing of Plummer back into the midfield. Hurricanes - Jordie Barrett is off to Leinster for a sabbatical next year but the more likely signing would be Billy’s brother back in the team. The Hurricanes are light on the outside with the loss of Salesi Rayasi to the Top 14 and if no quality is found to back up Kini Naholo, the midfield of Sullivan or Proctors could find themselves on the wing and space for a leader to show the Hurricanes three All Black midfield hopefuls (Higgins, Proctor, Umaga-Jensen) how its done. Highlanders - Rotation is high as usual at the Highlanders and versatility remains a strength with a lot of the squad. With compatriot Rhys Patchell signing a move to the JRLO, the passing of outside back Connor Garden-Bachop, and confirmed departure of Argentine wing Martin Bogado, the versatility of many of the young backups in the squad could see a veteran 12 like Williams being a strong partner for the robust Tele’a. With hope that the other Umaga-Jensen brother can force him out of the starting lineup, and shifting the sides general Sam Gilbert back into 10, the off-contract midfielder might seen as the perfect option for a squad still looking to fill one back spot.

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