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'Should it have been yellow card, red card, why is it neither? Explain': Raynal's divisive 'no card' head shot decisions

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

After weeks of heated debate over a deluge of red cards in the Guinness Six Nations and Gallagher Premiership, Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter-final at Sandy Park prompted a very different conversation – why the absence of any cards from referee Mathieu Raynal for Exeter players for two high shots to the face of Leinster replacement Ross Byrne.


Leinster went on to win the match 34-22 despite not gaining any numerical advantage following the high collisions by Jonny Hill and Jannes Kirsten. The Irish sub out-half kicked the penalties that were awarded for six points but there was much chat on live TV and on Twitter about why referee Raynal opted to keep his cards in his pocket rather than take more severe action against Exeter.

Raynal’s officiating has already come under scrutiny last Sunday when contact by Jake Ball to the head of Faf de Klerk during Sale’s round of 16 game went unpunished. Six days later, the quarter-final at Sandy Park was in the last minute of the first half when Hill first clattered into Byrne. Here is how the commentary unfolded from Exeter on BT Sport between pundits Brian O’Driscollwho featured on RugbyPass this week talking about his card frustrations – and Sam Warburton and match commentator Alastair Eykyn while they listened to the TMO-consulting Raynal.

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BOD: What a great collision that is (by Hill). That is textbook. 

SW: What is great about this hit, just because he made the tackle it is never over. The tackle is half the job, the second part of the job is getting back on your feet and he does really well doing that.

BOD: They are going to have a look at this. You can see from that angle there is an arm that followed through and made contact with Ross Byrne’s face. 

SW: Good spot, Drico. His arm comes through, doesn’t it… hits him in the face. 


AE: This is going to be a critical decision.

BOD: This could be either of the three (penalty, yellow, red card).

AE: That conversation suggests we are heading towards red. 

SW: I think you’re right. As soon as they use the words force to the head and speed, it’s a red card and they haven’t spoken about any mitigation. We are looking at a red card… 

BOD: The initial contact with the shoulder looks good but it is that flailing arm…


MR: …the ball carrier has dipped a little in height so I will go with penalty kick only as the first hit is on the shoulder, the ball carrier dips a little bit and then we have the arm slide up to the face but without any force so we are going for a penalty. 

AE: Goodness. 

BOD: I don’t know. I’m trying to put all the footage together. It feels as though it was almost a perfect yellow card maybe in that yes, the impact was initially on the shoulder and then it was a flailing impact relatively low. 

AE: It’s interesting to hear the conversation develop, though. Initially, they thought there was quite a lot of speed, quite a lot of force and ended up suggesting perhaps that force was minimal.   

BOD: It has come down from red card to penalty. 

At half-time, match coverage presenter Craig Doyle said: “Everyone at home is going to be talking about this moment from Jonny Hill. Should it have been yellow card, red card, why is it neither? Explain.”

Lawrence Dallaglio replied: “The referee Mathieu Raynal took his time. In real-time, it looked like Jonny Hill got a good shot off on Ross Byrne but actually, when you slow it down, that angle looks fine, he makes contact with the top of the shoulder, but that (other) angle does not look good, he has made contact with the head.

“When the referee looked at it the initial contact Jonny Hill made with the head is on the chest, shoulder and ultimately ends up on the head… Exeter will be happy with a penalty only. The thing to look at is the contact initially is on the shoulder and there is a tiny bit of mitigation, as the referee says, with Ross Byrne’s head coming down. 

“Let’s have another look at this angle: as we slow it down and we are trying to be fair here, bang, contact there on the shoulder. I reckon if he got a yellow card neither side would complain about that. Exeter have ended up quite fortunate.”

The second controversial high tackle incident arose on 65 minutes when replacement Exeter forward Kirsten tackled Byrne, a swinging arm coming up after the initial tackle to hit the Leinster player in the face. Again, referee Raynal didn’t brandish a card to the offending Exeter player and he only gave the visitors a penalty kick.    

MR: I am going to review this tackle, please.

AE: Once again it is Ross Byrne (who is hit), it is that arm that comes around. 

MR: That is the same as the first one, so I will just go for a penalty only. The hit is good. He has wrapped on the chest. There is indirect contact to the neck are but will very low force. 

SW: The only thing I can say on that is he is consistent, but he [Kirsten] doesn’t make an effort to bend at the hips. That is why it should go up to a yellow. Hill bends but Kirsten is upright. He doesn’t make any effort to bend so that is why it should be a higher sanction. 

AE: In the Gallagher Premiership that is certainly yellow. 

BOD: A lucky man… that could easily have been a yellow card.





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