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'Nothing more than a penalty': Former All Blacks balk at over-zealous refereeing

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Australia's Lachlan Swinton. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

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All Blacks greats Sir John Kirwan and Christian Cullen have called for rugby to ditch the red card system after both the All Blacks and Wallabies were reduced to 14 men in last night’s Bledisloe Cup clash in Brisbane.


The Wallabies edged the All Blacks 24-22 in a thrilling finish. Both teams had players sent off in the first half with All Blacks prop Ofa Tuungafasi becoming the fifth New Zealanders sent from the field in a test.

The incident occurred in the 23rd minute when Tuungafasi hit Wallabies player Tom Wright in the jaw with his shoulder.

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All Black post-match press conference – Bledisloe Four
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All Black post-match press conference – Bledisloe Four

Referee Nic Berry said the tackle was enough for a red card.

“The initial point on contact from what I seeing here is on his chin. For me I don’t think there’s a significant drop to the body of the ball carrier,” Berry said to TMO Mike Fraser.

“Based on those factors it’s a direct contact to the chin and there’s no mitigating factors so it’s going to be a red card against black three.”

He was followed by Wallabies debutant Lachlan Swinton shortly after when the flanker hit All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock with a shoulder to the head.


Both teams were reduced to 13 men at points in the test after receiving yellow cards on top of the reds.

In 2017, World Rugby introduced a zero-tolerance approach to reckless and accidental head contact in the sport.

Tu’ungafasi is the third All Black to be sent off since the zero-tolerance guidelines were introduced, following Sonny Bill Williams (against the Lions in 2017) and Scott Barrett (against Australia last year), for hitting an attacker above the shoulders.

Before Williams’ red card in 2017, the last All Black to be ordered from the field was Sir Colin Meads in 1967.


In Sky Sport’s halftime show, Kirwan said red cards shouldn’t be in the game.

“I don’t think we should have red cards in rugby. I think we should have a yellow card and on report and you suffer later because the game will suffer,” Kirwan said on Sky Sport after the first half.

“The trouble with red cards is that it throws the game up in the air. This is the problem I’ve got with it,” Kirwan added after the game.

Fellow Sky Sport panellist and All Black great Christian Cullen agreed with Kirwan.

“I’m with JK. I don’t agree with red cards at all. Ten minutes off, put it on report, someone else can come in. It just ruins the game, seriously,” Cullen said.

“I’ve always thought that red cards are for absolute thuggery on the pitch,” Cullen added.

Sky commentator and former All Black Justin Marshall also disagreed with the call.

“I can’t agree with that. Having played the game and understanding the contact areas and how there is that tiny microsecond intent and contact,” he said.

“The intent was never to hit him there from what I saw. I certainly feel the player carrying the ball, Tom Wright, didn’t help the situation.”

“A slight error in judgement. Nothing more than a penalty.” Marshall said.


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