Rugby greats see red over rash of cards 'ruining the game'

Wellington (AFP) –


Rugby greats in New Zealand and Australia have called for red cards to be dumped after Saturday's Bledisloe Cup Test in Brisbane was marred by both sides being reduced to 14 men for most of the game.

Former All Blacks John Kirwan and Christian Cullen, along with ex-Wallabies Phil Kearns and Tim Horan, argued that red cards were "ruining the spectacle" as referee Nic Berry's strict application of the laws took the gloss off Australia's upset 24-22 victory.

Twice the match was further reduced to 14-on-13 when players from both sides spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin after receiving yellow cards.

The red cards were in line with World Rugby's crackdown on contact with the head, which makes no allowance for accidental collision.

But the former All Blacks and Wallabies stars argued that if the contact is not malicious then there should be provision for the tackler to be sidelined for 10 minutes, with any further penalty decided after the match.

The Wallabies' victory came after being flogged by the All Blacks 43-5 the previous week in Sydney, but instead of the post-match focus being on their stunning turnaround the central talking point was rugby union's rigid rules.

All Blacks prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi was sent off in the 23rd minute for his shoulder connecting with the jaw of Tom Wright. Wallaby flanker Lachie Swinton followed 12 minutes later for a similar high shot on Sam Whitelock.

Neither Wright nor Whitelock needed medical attention and were not required to take a head injury assessment.

"I don't think we should have red cards in rugby. I think we should have a yellow card and 'on report' and you suffer later," Kirwan said on Sky Sport.

Cullen added: "I don't agree with red cards at all. Ten minutes off, put it on report, someone else can come in. It just ruins the game, seriously."

On Fox Sports in Australia, Kearns agreed with the All Blacks.

"There's got to be a better way. For me, it should be a yellow card, put them on report and then go to the judiciary afterwards. It is ruining the game, ruining the spectacle."

Horan had some sympathy with referee Berry, saying under current laws he had no option but to expel Tu'ungafasi and Swinton.

"The laws are there. I wish there was a way you could actually give a yellow card and then put the player on report, and then they can come back on the field or you can actually replace them after 10 minutes."

Another former Wallaby, Justin Harrison, said that while player safety is paramount the rules of the game should take into account that neither Wright nor Whitelock appeared to be injured and the collisions were not deliberate.

"We know that players don't go out with the intent to take people's heads off, what they do go out with though is with the intent to hit people as hard as they can," Harrison said.

"When you are moving as fast as you can as hard as you can and you've got 125kg that commits to a target, it's very difficult to change that framework of decision."