This weekend’s Super Rugby action saw three red cards dished out as Ruan Botha, Folau Fainga and Raymond Rhule all received marching orders in their respective matches.
In two of the matches, the red cards proved to be divisive as the Jaguares and Lions completed important wins against the 14-men Sharks and Stormers.
For the Jaguares, Botha’s red card played a part in Ramiro Moyano scoring a late bonus point try whilst Rhule’s card was a catalyst for the Lions comeback that proved to be too much for the Stormers.
Brumbies however, rallied in face of this challenge as they ran in two late tries to snatch a victory against the Bulls in Pretoria.
This has once again caused massive debate surrounding the place for red cards in the game as many fans believe that it robs the game of a good contest.
There have been many different opinions about the use of a the red-card in the game with possible alternatives being suggested which will have less impact on any game where a red card is given.
Purpose of the red card
The red card whether a straight awarding or a cumulation of two consecutive yellow cards is meant to be the ultimate sanction taken against a player who is infringing on the game.
Because it is the height of disciplinary sanction, the offence must be deemed to be an extraordinary offence and across the game has generally been kept for acts of dangerous or foul play and in some cases, dissent towards an official.
The idea of a player receiving a red card is to give their team a one-man deficit and so giving the opposition a numerical advantage for the remainder of the match.
The thinking is that the player must be made to suffer in the form of missing out, and the team must suffer as a result to heighten the seriousness of the sanction.
Basically, the player must be aware that the consequences of their offence not only effects their match, but also their team’s efforts which adds further necessity to avoid causing such a sanction.
This has given rise to fans calling for a different sanction method which would solely punish the player in question and not the team on the basis that a team should not suffer because of the actions of one player.
Red card alternative
One of the members of the debate that favours a change in the red card system is SuperSport pundit Nick Mallet.
Speaking after the 2017 Super Rugby final on SuperSport, Mallet presented an alternative to the current system:
““My point is, this is still a game of rugby and I think perhaps we should look at the player getting sanctioned individually and not the whole team. Perhaps they should think of replacing a red-carded player with someone off the bench after 10 minutes. We’re all feeling very, very sorry for the Lions and their supporters.”
Such a suggestion would mean that the team suffers for a 10-minute period as they do for a yellow card but afterwards the numerical advantage is restored with another player rejoining the field.
This means that the individual still misses the match and suffers for his actions, but the other 14 players do not suffer as significantly because of their actions.
The only problem with this is that it somewhat lightens the load of the sanctioned player as the sanction effects the team in the same way a yellow card would, with the difference being simply that they must sit out the rest of the match.
It has also been suggested that should this change be made, more severe sanctions should be taken against the palyer in question after the match in the form of extended suspensions.
At the end of the day, rugby is a team sport. Whilst the actions of individuals make up the game, it will always be a team effort.
The function of a red card is a last resort to dealing with a situation that has well eclipsed the line in terms of a law transgression that a yellow cards punishment will not suffice.
I therefore believe that the system should remain the same. Whilst it is unfortunate that a red card in many ways destroys the contest for both teams as well as the supporters, it is that consequence that makes a red card so undesirable and meaningful.
A player receiving a red card must be aware that because of their transgression, they single handedly destroyed the contest and so must take better care not to repeat their actions.
Some may say that it is unfair on the team, but it is a team sport and so just as a team can benefit from an individual playing extraordinarily well, they must suffer if an individual breaks the law to the extent of the ultimate sanction.
The current upward trend of red cards being awarded remain a problem, but the solution lies not in the changing of the red card punishment system, but in the awarding system in terms of the officiating.
Various unions and rugby boards need to reassess the policies regarding the red card as the zero-tolerance policy towards potentially dangerous play has seen more red cards handed out than ever before.
Having said that, this is not necessarily a bad thing as the game is being made safer although the extremes of such are certainly being pushed at the moment.
Red cards are not awarded for basic transgressions. They are done to curb exceptional circumstances of foul or illegal play and the changing of the current system to remove the numerical disadvantage will reduce the level of the sanction.