One of the Premiership’s leading coaches believes the introduction of a 20-minute red card could help reduce the growing unease about the fairness of rugby’s disciplinary sanctions. World Rugby are understood to be considering the idea of a global trial and the Bristol director of rugby, Pat Lam, is among those who would back the proposal.
Following a crackdown on upright tackles and head contact, there have been an increasing number of controversial red cards this season, not least Charlie Ewels' second-minute dismissal for England against Ireland at Twickenham last month. Under an experimental law being trialled in Super Rugby, a sent-off player can be tactically replaced by a substitute after 20 minutes, thus restoring their side to full strength.
The counter argument is that diluting the sting of a red card reduces an offender’s incentive to improve their tackle technique, instantly undermining the game’s push for greater player safety. Lam, however, says there are now so many red cards being shown that sides are being punished unfairly.
"Red cards used to be for out and out foul play... someone punching someone or a real dangerous situation," said the former Connacht coach, whose Bristol side face Sale at Ashton Gate on Friday in the second leg of their Heineken Champions Cup last-16 tie. "But with the current laws around tackle height we're seeing a lot of stuff. The rule is probably a good idea with the amount of red cards out there. Pretty much every week someone is getting a red card."
Lack of consistency
Lam, though, feels the lack of consistency surrounding some refereeing decisions is "the bigger issue" in the sport. Last weekend Leinster's Jamison Gibson-Park received only a yellow card for a dangerous upright tackle on Connacht's Kieran Marmion while Leicester's Guy Porter was sent off in Clermont following an accidental off-the-ball collision.
World Rugby has yet to make a firm decision on the 20-minute red card proposal with the Super Rugby-based evidence regarded as inconclusive. Sources within the organisation, however, acknowledge there has been disquiet at some recent refereeing interpretations which may yet lead to a tweaking of the framework surrounding incidences of head contact.
Lam, meanwhile, also believes next year’s European Cup should revert to its traditional pool structure. “I’m still a big fan of the original. I think everyone I’ve talked to liked the original format. You know who you’re playing and it’s the way to go. If we’re out of Covid, going back to the other format is probably the best way.” – Guardian