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'Glad I retired': Nigel Owens wades into Bristol red card debate

By Liam Heagney
Referee Pierre Brousset shows a red card to Bristol's Josh Caulfield (Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Retired referee Nigel Owens has shared his thoughts about the overturned disciplinary hearing red card decision involving Bristol second row Josh Caulfield.

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The Bears lock was sent off last Friday in Galway by French referee Pierre Brousset in the 13th minute of his team’s Investec Champions Cup match at Connacht for stamping on Ireland prop Finlay Bealham.

Bristol went on to lose the game 27-10, a result that left them propping up the bottom of the six-team table and failing to progress in the competition.

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However, it has now emerged that the red card brandished to Caulfield was unwarranted and the English club’s forward is available for selection for their Gallagher Premiership fixture at home to Bath this Saturday.

According to an EPCR statement revealing the disciplinary hearing decision reached by Paul Thomas (Wales, chair), Marcello D’Orey (Portugal) and Stefan Terblanche (South Africa), “The committee determined that Caulfield had committed an act of foul play. However, it found that the offence did not warrant a red card and the red card decision was therefore overturned.”

The outcome left Owens, the world’s second most capped Test referee behind fellow retiree Wayne Barnes, bemused and he took to X (formerly Twitter) to express his dissatisfaction that Brousset’s red card decision wasn’t upheld.

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“How can they say this is foul play but not red card,” he began. “If it’s not foul play and complete accident then play on. If it’s reckless and foul play then it has to be RC. For what it’s worth, it’s a RC for me as it’s not a natural action of rucking and reckless. Glad I retired.”

After sharing his initial thoughts, Owens was asked by a reader, Chris Tate, “Would you not account for the fact he himself took a boot to the face a split second before?” Owens replied: “If you think that causes this then play on, no foul play. Am not too sure myself so if it is foul play then it has to be RC.”

Owens’ original post was in response to a tweet from Peter Jackson, the former long-serving Daily Mail rugby correspondent, who suggested: “Rugby’s capacity for making itself a laughing stock knows no bounds.

“A disciplinary panel finds Josh Caulfield guilty of foul play but that “the offence did not warrant a red card”. So a reckless boot to the head is ok? And the game keeps spouting on about player welfare.”

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Tom 174 days ago

It's like when players get a penalty or yellow card for a high tackle when they've hit someone in the head but there has been extreme mitigation. E.g. the ball carrier has slipped and fallen rapidly at the last moment. Even though the tackler was using good technique and would have otherwise hit the ball carrier in the waist, they'll give a yellow card and say there was mitigation.

Sometimes a red card is necessary, sometimes a yellow card is necessary but sometimes it's just a rugby incident. You can't penalize or give yellow cards for rugby incidents. Completely agree with Nige here. Either Caulfield gets a red card and a ban or it was a freak accident and it wasn't foul play.

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Turlough 1 hours ago
Jean de Villiers' three word response to 'best in the world' debate

This ‘raging’ debate is only happenning in media circles and has never been a topic in Ireland (although SA media are interested). It makes the media companies money I guess. SA are RWC champions and #1 ranked team although Ireland are back within a point there. The facts point to SA. For a lot of 2021 France beat ALL their rivals and Ireland similar in 2022-2023. It is not wrong to say that on such form either can be deemed to be the current best team if they have beaten all their rivals and ranked #1. The ‘have to have won a world cup’ stipulation is nonsense. The world cup draw and scheduling has been tailored to the traditional big teams since the start. The scheduling also which sees the big teams sheltered from playing a hard pool match the week before has also been a constant. It is extraordinary that for example France have made so many finals. Ireland who were realistically only contenders in 2023 were in a Pool with two other top 5 teams and had to play one of them 7 days before a quarter final against France or New Zealand. Always going to be a coin toss. Scotland’s situation was worse. New Zealand had great chances in 1995, 1999, 2007 but they could not win a tight RWC match. The first tight match they ever won was versus France in the 2011 final, literally they lost every other tight match before that. Some of those NZ teams around that era were #1 surely?

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