Should we sin-bin red cards?

The result of the 2017 Super Rugby final will always have an asterisk next to it in the minds of Lions supporters who believe their heroes would have beaten the Crusaders if Kwagga Smith hadn’t been sent off.

Ami Kapilevich and Zelím Nel debate whether red cards and the sin bin are effective measures to enforce the laws, or are they robbing spectators of the even contest they’ve paid to watch?

Ami says – Red cards are real life, get over it!

The moment Kwagga connected with Crusaders fullback David Havili, I knew it. Red. Harsh? Perhaps. Fair? Absolutely. The law is clear. Cue the wails of “that’s game over” and Johan Ackermann’s vinegary comment: “I don’t think 62,000 people paid to see a 15-versus-14 game.”

Really, coach? Fact is, 62,000 people paid to watch a game of rugby. And when heinous acts occur on the field, they must sometimes result in a 14-man team.

We need to be able to send players off because violent or repeated, and blatant, cynical play needs to be dealt with there and then, on the spot. And as Tank Lanning correctly points out: “It’s a team sport, so the punishment must be collective.”

Let’s not underestimate how much effect the prospect of a red card has when the red mist descends and the handbags come out. And let’s not be naïve about the lengths a player will go to prevent what could be a sure-thing try, especially in a final, when the threat of suspension afterwards is meaningless, and the stakes are so high.

Besides, red cards are hardly the game-killers that many make them out to be. Just last year the Springboks were defeated by Ireland who played with 14 men for 60 minutes. Later that year, England lost Elliot Daly in the 5th minute (and played with 13 men for 10 minutes) but still went on to beat Argentina 27-14. These things happen all the time.

So the sanction, while heavy, is not an absolute death sentence. It requires a change in strategy, certainly, but a good enough team will adapt – and the very best teams even rise to the challenge.

Zelím says – Make transgressors pay, not spectators!

Rugby is not an innovative sport. Desperately traditional and anti-change, the game was reluctantly dragged out of the 19th century in the mid-90s.

Where American football turned professional in the space of two decades, rugby needed more than 100 years to come to grips with the idea.

One of several facets that have been adopted from other sports is the yellow- and red-card system. The cards originated in soccer and the “sin bin” is from rugby league.

Unlike soccer, when a rugby player is shown the yellow card, he spends 10 minutes on the naughty chair.

In 142 Super Rugby matches this season, 143 yellows and 14 red cards were flashed at transgressing players. This makes the 15-versus-15, 80-minute contest an exception rather than the rule.

Some pundits have suggested that punishment should be reserved for after the match, to protect the parity of the contest. I think this would only incentivise spoiling tactics in the most important matches.

Here’s what I would like to see happen: Kwagga gets a red card for dangerous play and is ejected from the game, Cyle Brink replaces him and the Lions lose three seats on their bench.

So, in effect, the Lions go from having eight replacements to four. The contest remains 15 v 15, and the hosts lose part of their Highveld advantage because the Crusaders have four more pairs of fresh legs in the final quarter.

I’d apply the same thinking to yellow cards – Kwagga off for 10 minutes, Cyle Brink on, and the Lions lose one seat on the bench.

And for cards shown in the final quarter, there should be an automatic ban – one match for yellow, two for red – in addition to any post-game sanctions for foul play.

You’ve read what they think, now let us know where you stand in The Big Debate!

- All Out Rugby Staff Writer

Let's chat

  • Jan Greeff

    The Kwagga incident was very unfortunate, but if the penalty that was dished out is not sufficient to deter players from dangerous play, how can we even debate the question?

  • Gerhard Coetzee

    Whilst the suggestion from Ami is a very good one to keep the playing field level.However the reason for the red card was for the players safety and will still be there even if there is 15/15.The contest of the bal in the air in a very competitive game like rugby is always going to be there and the teams are increasingly using this tactics.This dangerous situation will always be there unless you scrap the contest for the ball in the air so that players may not jump in the air to contest the ball ? The coaches might also now stop using the up and under tactic’s ,especially in important games like play off’s ?

  • Theunis van der Merwe

    It is unbelievable that nobody saw the Crusaders fullback actually jumped with high speed into Kwagga while he turned and try to get out of the way. He landed aprox three or four meter from the spot where his feet left the grass. This was the first violation and he almost took Kwaggas head off. I am not aware of any law that allows a player to jump into another player. Can someone help with that? And his own team mate tipped him with the shoulder.

  • Steve

    I think both arguments are convincing, but Zelim’s takes it for me. Yes, every now and then a side down to 14 men wins against 15, but how often? 5, maybe 10 percent of the time at the most. That means there’s at least a 90 percent chance that it’s game over the second a red card comes out. Sorry, but watching and hoping for miracles isn’t nearly as much fun as watching a fair contest.

  • Steve

    And Zelim’s argument gives a very fair alternative to the current law.. Maybe it can be tweaked to be more harsh, which as Ami points out is crucial, but to me 15 vs 15 is just as crucial. Maybe keep the current law if a team commits a 2nd red card offense in a game!

  • Septuagenarian

    I was working in the UK about 10 years ago. The Six Nations had started. Scotland were playing well above expectations and beat Ireland and I think England at home. The next match was against Wales. I rushed home from the Ciry to watch the match which was being televised at 5pm from Cardiff. The referee was Stuart Dickenson. In the first 10 minutes a Welshman pushed a Scottish lock in the back. As he fell he spun around and his boot tipped the vein of the Welshman. Dickenson issued a red card. Apparently he had no choice. End of game. I switched off. Rugby must grow up.

  • Gaz

    There are arguments for both sides. As we’ve all seen in countless games – determining “intention” is difficult. No one is a mind reader, and a player’s acting skills may even rival their playing abilities (Habana and his dives – eyes roll). However, I do believe that the team needs to pay for these offences/mistakes and agree that at a professional level such brain farts and mistakes should not be happening.

    I think Zelim’s take on it is a good middle ground. I was going to suggest the offending player gets sent off, 10 mins with 14 (like yellow) then a replacement comes on for the offending player. That way, the offending team is down to 14 for ten minutes AND lose a replacement (offending player hits showers). But maybe that’s not sufficient enough a sanction… but I do agree we need to revisit this law.

    Nobody wants to watch a 15 v 14 game, unless of course you’re supporting the 15-man team…

  • Wynand

    I think the best way forward is Nick Mallets suggestion. Take the guy that got the red card off the field and after 10 minutes replace him with someone else. The whole team gets punished for the mistake (sometimes not deliberate like Kwagga) of one man. When one of the props or hooker receives a red card, the flanker is the person who gets the worst punishment as he is the one who leaves the field for the rest of the game and he did not even do anything. Rather punish the offender with a long ban than ruining a whole game.

  • stormramp

    To theunis. I totally agree with you. How can you make a law but does not take the physics into account. High speed+forward momentum=impossible stop. Kwagga could not stop himself because he was already in high speed by the time he reached the player and the player was already in the air nearly taking he’s head off. How can that be a red card if its impossible to stop at such a pace. They did not take into consideration that is the players action should he be to close at high speed. This will be interesting because based on the laws it only protects one player. What if Kwagga got a head injury. My opinion too many rules and rugby is getting soft

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