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'If the 20-minute red card comes in at all levels it might be a case of 'Watch out, boys''

By Paul Smith
David Rose sends off Neil Briggs (Getty)

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The Rugby Championship’s opening weekend also marked the next stage of World Rugby’s 20-minute red card trial.


Unlike the remainder of the temporary law changes currently being piloted this is not being extended across the board, so will not be seen when the European season gets underway in the autumn.

Under the trial, a player who has received a red card or two yellows may not return to the field, but can be replaced after 20 minutes.

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Jasper Wiese on settling in with the Springboks
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Jasper Wiese on settling in with the Springboks

David Rose, who refereed in the English Premiership between 2001 and 2013, believes this change is very much about the elite end of the sport where the quality of the spectacle is vital for the paying audience – either in the stadium or on TV.

“World Rugby tend to make decisions using evidence-based outcomes and lots of research,” he said.

“When we have occasionally seen players being red-carded in the opening minutes of a big game it has often diluted the contest – which is what this tries to deal with.

“Players need to adjust their approach around head contacts since with the way the protocol is now written we are ending up with a lot more red cards than used to be the case.


“A lot of people look at this and say ‘the game’s gone soft’ which is nonsense, but adjustments to the new regulations are still being made by the current generation of players and coaches.

“The protocol does allow some leeway for changes in height or angle – for instance Finn Russell was only penalised and not carded recently for his contact with Cheslin Kolbe.

“But there are still grey areas which can have an impact on the game. As a result, sometimes when a red card happens it can be seen as too much of a sanction especially when it affects the spectacle for a big crowd and watching TV audience.”

Rose, who took charge of over 100 Premiership games before becoming a TMO, said that while he understands the thinking behind the 20-minute red card, he still has queries in his mind.


“A lot can happen in 20 minutes as we saw with the All Blacks against Australia,” he said.

“One team could still run away with the game and ruin the spectacle so I’m still not sure it totally deals with that issue.

“This is only an elite level trial currently, but historically rugby union has worked with one set of laws from top to bottom. If this is ever brought in across the board, I would have some concerns about how it might impact at local level.

“It isn’t hard to see someone lower down the tree viewing it as an opportunity to take advantage of the situation should a game get a bit out of control as they know their team will only lose a player for 20 minutes.

“Picture a situation where a league game at the start of the season has been a bit acrimonious – if this regulation is brought in across the sport it might be a case of ‘watch out, boys’ when the return game happens in the spring.”

Rose believes other alternatives may also be worthy of consideration in an attempt to balance the need to deter foul play while taking a less punitive approach to technical infringements.

“One option may be for two technical offence yellow cards not to add up to a red in that match with the offender instead getting a one-match ban after the event,” he said.

“It might also be worth looking at the rugby league system of ‘on report’ for foul play as a means to address concerns about damaging the spectacle at elite level.”


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