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Ref Watch: The Tom Curry red card

By Paul Smith
Referee Mathieu Raynal during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between England and Argentina at Stade Velodrome on September 09, 2023 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images)

As England kicked nine goals to grind out a win in the style of Will Carling’s team from the early 1990’s, French referee Mathieu Raynal was for much of the contest little more than an interested spectator rarely required to get above a jog.


Desperately poor Argentina lost to 14-man opponents through their repeated ability to shoot themselves in the foot, cough up possession, take wrong options and concede needless penalties. In truth their heads were gone and they lost all shape and playing pattern long before the final whistle.

Once he got beyond a dramatic opening ten minutes which saw England flanker Tom Curry red carded by the ‘bunker’ replay official for his reckless challenge on Juan Cruz Mallia then Argentina no.10 Santiago Carreras see yellow for his late hit on George Ford, Raynal probably had his easiest 70 minutes of test match officiating.

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That said, you can only referee the game in front of you and the only French whistler at their home tournament – a big contrast with the four who made it to Japan 2019 – did a competent job in one of the pool stage’s defining contests.

England’s Discipline – 1
Let’s get the bad bit out of the way first. Curry became the fourth England player to receive a red card since March and the first in Rugby World Cup history for the head-to-head consequences of yet another entirely avoidable upright tackle.

Like Owen Farrell before him, the Sale flanker failed to bend at the waist after chasing a high ball and as a consequence became a hostage to fortune when catcher Mallia’s body position and timing did not entirely match the picture that Curry had in his mind as he approached the contact.


As I wrote in yesterday’s ref watch column on the France v New Zealand opener: “I couldn’t help but wonder if England’s players were watching as two of the world’s leading four sides went through 80 minutes without a hint of a high tackle – perhaps it isn’t as hard as it seems Owen?”


Clearly they weren’t!

It defies belief to me that this message is not getting through since – as my former Sports Editor at the Coventry Telegraph used to often say – ‘these are not stupid people.’

England Argentina
Tom Curry is sent off, with his yellow eventually upgraded to a red – PA

The need to be macho, assert yourself, hit harder and with more defensive line-speed than anyone else is clearly dominating England’s thinking to such an extent that they cannot see the consequences that sometimes follow living on the edge in this way.

If four red cards since March doesn’t cause a rethink nothing will – and let’s be honest limited, unambitious England lose to every other top 12 side on the planet when playing with 14 men for 77 minutes – and that list usually would include Argentina.


Raynal’s decision to refer the Curry decision to the TMRO (to give the man in the bunker his official title) underlined my comment yesterday that almost no red cards will now be shown on field.

That said, it is clearly preferable to keep the game moving (although this contest rarely moved anywhere in a hurry!) and allow the replay official eight minutes to make the decision rather than rush it onfield, so I have no issues with this.

Santiago Carreras’ Yellow Card
Although the challenge looked bad in real time, Carreras’ mis-timed charge-down only made very minor contact with Ford and almost none with his head so could have escaped with just a penalty.

Of course, under the current directives he was out of control of his body and therefore liable for the consequences of the late challenge once there was an iota of head contact, but to me there was no question of a red card.

England’s Discipline – 2
Now the positive bit…

From the end of a first quarter during which England gave away three penalties and a scrum free kick they only conceded one penalty in the next 50 minutes and three more in total.

As ITV’s match summariser Ugo Monye noted they were at times extremely clever in deciding how hard to compete on the ground and showed huge discipline on the defensive offside line.

With their front row also gaining a clear edge despite centre Manu Tuilagi often packing down behind Dan Cole or Will Stuart in the gap left by Curry, they were unrecognisable from the side that regularly shipped 15 to 20 penalties – including many in needless situations – per match under Eddie Jones.

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Catherine, Princess of Wales watching the rugby – PA

From a refereeing perspective this makes life very easy. Raynal’s interactions with Courtney Lawes were very occasional and rather than continually seeing England players trying to push the laws to their limit and beyond it was instead Argentina that struggled to stay on the right side of Raynal, with the breakdown where they conceded six of their 13 penalties being a real issue.

If England can keep this disciplinary clean sheet through the tournament it will hugely enhance their prospects – now they just need to find an attacking game…

Sir Clive Woodward
Back to another favourite hobby horse – bad TV punditry.

Saturday night’s prime time ITV audience will doubtless have included many very occasional rugby watchers. They therefore need the station’s pundits to have real authority and understanding of the events they are analysing.

Sir Clive is so far from grasping World Rugby’s attempts to make the sport safer and the causes and consequences of their war on head contact that he must have lived on another planet for the last five years.

How can he fail to understand that intent is NOT now a consideration when the officials consider any form of head contact or that the defender entering a tackle upright hugely compromises the safety of the ball carrier.


Mull these thoughts over when reading his latest contribution to “the game’s gone” club uttered during his half-time analysis…

“I think it (the Curry incident) is a yellow card in the rules today. Was it vindictive or done on purpose? No – it’s an accident, a rugby incident.

“I feel so sorry for Tom Curry, there is no way that should be a red card, the game’s getting into very dangerous areas here.

“That’s not a malicious tackle, it’s a sheer accident and not a red card in any way shape or form.”

His use of ‘rules’ rather than ‘laws’ probably says it all…



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Ian 281 days ago

Tom Curry gets upgraded because of England's track record over the last few games...
Carreras could've been red but bunker spunkers didn't want to be seen as tit-for-tatters...
Kriel's misdemeanour to go unchecked is a travesty and for the good of the game he should be sanctioned retrospectively...
In all 3 incidents there was very little intent to cause injury but the narrative had to change and players techniques must change to...
As for Sir Clive... If you're going to pick him up on "rules" should be "laws" please also correct everyone calling a score by using a drop-kick or dropped kick a "drop goal"....
It is "Dropped Goal"
Well played George (de Beer) Ford

Josh 281 days ago

I had to watch the highlights back to make sure I wasn't going mad. I'm not: Ford's head snaps back after Carerras jumps into it. "Very minor"? No. And I thought ANY head contact was bad?

Why the differing sanctions for these two, the Chilean captain and Kriel?

These laws are arbirtary, luck and and outcome-based, don't do what they're supposed to (in either preventing bad tackles or preventing injury) and are not being applied consistently. To say nothing of CTE, which they do absolutely nothing to prevent. They're not fit for purpose.

Mike 282 days ago

Quote 1: "Carreras’ mis-timed charge-down only made very minor contact with Ford and almost none with his head so could have escaped with just a penalty"
Quote 2: ... intent is NOT now a consideration when the officials consider any form of head contact ..."
So which is it?

Bob Marler 282 days ago

I wonder how many red cards until someone in the English team gets it.

Head = Red. So so simple.

Jonathan 282 days ago

I disagree with the comments above about Sir Clive - yes, there was accidental head contact but you can see Curry craning his neck away from the contact. He did wrap and he was not fully upright, he had bent (obviously not enough for the TMO) at the waist and hips - so when they said there was no mitigation that was wrong. It looked like the decision of the review officer was more based on the outcome (bleeding head wounds) than any real evidence of foul play.

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