Referees notebook; Red cards and RWC Head Contact directives

Referees notebook; Red cards and RWC Head Contact directives

By and large the referees – since the opening round of matches – have implemented the new head contact directives released by World Rugby, to the letter.

Last Word on Rugby’s resident referee Scott MacLean looks at the decisions to date at the Rugby World Cup (RWC) and how/why they might have come to their decisions.

If ‘blame’ about the number of red cards and the impact they have on games is to be apportioned anywhere, it is probably at the governing body for using their showpiece event as the platform for these changes. But, they’re also unrepentant about that and that its never a bad time to introduce changes that go towards their aims of improving player safety and welfare.

World Rugby Head Contact Directive – view video here.

Referees notebook; RWC red cards and Head Contact directives

That said, there are some examples that need further explanation. Ben O’Keeffe didn’t have the best angle to judge the Reece Hodge challenge on Peceli Yato in real-time in the Australia vs Fiji match in the opening round. Although, the failure there seems to rest with English TMO Rowan Kitt, who didn’t think it needed to be brought to O’Keeffe’s attention.

In a similar vein Piers Francis’ collision with American Will Hooley was adjudged by the judiciary to have been affected by the latter’s late change in height; while still high (and higher than WR would prefer) it provided sufficient mitigation for the citing against the Englishman to be dismissed.

The third is the one the saw Bundee Aki sent off. In this case, I have some empathy for the Irish midfielder as his actions appeared to be instinctive, with little time to adjust his height prior to the contact with a slightly lower and possibly slipping Ulupano Seuteni.

I find it odd that the judiciary found him guilty whereas they didn’t with Francis; in broadly similar circumstances.

Thoughts on ‘length of World Rugby bans’

World Rugby has decreed that direct contact by a shoulder with the head in a tackle (as opposed to a shoulder charge) has a starting point of 6 weeks. Once the charge is proven it cannot be reduced by other mitigating factors by ‘more than 50%’ which accounts for the bans so far being of the same length.

If there is an anomaly in the sanctions imposed in this World Cup, it is in the bans imposed on Italians Andrea Lovotti and Nicola Quaglio for their spear tackle on South Africa’s Duane Vermuelen.

Those should – in my view – have been at least twice as long as that handed out.

Ref’s notes from RWC Quarterfinals weekend

Two talking points from the quarter-final stage; the Matt Todd penalty try and yellow card, and the Tendai Mtawarira tip-tackle.

Starting with the former, referee Nigel Owens formed the view that Todd was offside and in doing so he then interfered with play (Law 9.2) and having done so prevented a probable try being scored, so a penalty try and yellow card was the correct outcome (Law 8.3).

However, replays showed that Matt Todd was in fact onside. So it should have eliminated this line of discussion yet despite this, Owens – for reasons that haven’t been made public – would not be swayed from his decision. All said, you could make an argument that by ending up on the ground as he did [intentionally or otherwise] Todd prevented Ireland making forward progress.

Although it is not called out explicitly in the obstruction section of Law 9 (which relates to Foul Play), the provisions of Law 9.16 – “A player must not charge or knock down an opponent carrying the ball without attempting to grasp that player” come into consideration.

So in summary, a defensible outcome was reached, albeit not for the right reasons.

Onto the Springboks player, Tendai Mtawarira. There’s little argument that The Beast lifted his Japanese opponent Keita Inagaki beyond the horizontal early in their match. However, and despite the views expressed by Jamie Joseph post-match, Wayne Barnes was correct to issue ‘only’ a yellow card. That was due to Inagaki’s arm, then shoulder contacted the turf first, before his head; which is reinforced by the current guidelines.

It was certainly poor execution by Mtawarira (see main photo) who took a risk by hooking and lifting the leg of an off-balance Inagaki. Certainly, a technique he’s unlikely to repeat anytime soon, but from the view of a referee, how RWC Head Contact directives were incorporated, and the decision made, was the right one.


Scott MacLean is a Wellington Regional referee, who regularly contributes to Last Word on Rugby on issues that reflect the laws and governance of the sport.


“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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