"Hopefully none." Alain Rolland answers a question about what stick will be used to beat match officials in the coming weeks.
In recent months Rolland, World Rugby's referee chief, personally briefed all the Tier 1 coaches and players about how the World Cup will be adjudicated. The three-times capped Ireland scrumhalf knows where the problems are likely to arise (clue: the stink made by every Kiwi with a platform following Scott Barrett's red card for his high tackle on Michael Hooper in last month's Bledisloe Cup match), but everyone has been briefed.
“There has been a fair bit of discussion around foul play,” said Rolland at Monday’s pre-tournament operational media briefing. “Over the last couple of months, since the high tackle framework was introduced, we have used it to be more consistent in the application of dealing with foul play.
“It’s quite clear now. There are three questions. Is there contact to the head? If yes, was there a high degree of danger? If so, it’s a red card. The referee will look to see if ‘there is an act of mitigation that allows me to bring the red down to a yellow card’.
Nobody wants to issue a red. If an action merits it I like to think one will be shown
"Everything we are doing is to protect the players. This has been explained to every squad at the Rugby World Cup. I personally went through it with all the Tier 1 unions, and two of our ex-referees, Johnny Lacey and Chris Pollack, who are already working with the Tier 2 unions, have presented to them as well."
Rolland was quick to shut down the suggestion that referees will seek to lay down an early marker or be overly strict in the opening games.
“Nobody wants to issue a red. If an action merits it I like to think one will be shown.”
Rolland was a fine referee with a good feel for the game he once played at the highest level, but anyone with even a passing interest in rugby will remember the most iconic red card the sport has seen since Irish referee Kevin Kelleher sent off Colin "Pinetree" Meads at Murrayfield in 1967. We are referring to Rolland dismissing Wales captain Sam Warburton 17 minutes into the 2011 World Cup semi-final for tip-tackling Vincent Clerc.
“Just because we are in a World Cup environment doesn’t mean we are not allowed to [show a red card] but we are not arriving here with an expectation of who can issue the most,” Rolland continued. “That’s not how we operate.
“Everything comes back to the actions of the players.”
The head coach looms above everyone else at this tournament, mainly because they have a pre- and post-match platform that gets beamed globally. And they are great talkers, when the mood grabs them, to influence whoever is listening.
Take the usually straight-talking Steve Hansen who, understandably, avoided calling Barrett's actions a deserved red card ahead of the judiciary hearing. Several ex-All Blacks on New Zealand television started screaming out the "game's gone soft" line.
We hope that people can understand why the decisions are made even if they don't agree with them
“Can we deal with the specifics?” Rolland countered. “The facts were we had a player who took the shoulder into a sink position and made no attempt to make a legitimate tackle, and he went shoulder-first directly into the head of the ball carrier [Hooper]. When we see an action like that we have no other option but to go down the route of a red card.
“We hope that people can understand why the decisions are made even if they don’t agree with them.”
So everybody knows the score.
“There is 100 percent clarity. I’ve had this conversation, not only have I presented to the coaches but all the members of the playing staff.”