Ireland v Italy: Where the focus was on the Italy red card, not the rugby

Italy red card: Hame Faiva was shown a red card in the Guiness Six Nations match
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The Italy red card happened last Saturday against Ireland. Looking at just the scoreline, it was a game to forget for the Italians. However, looking deeper into the game, there was some controversy, especially regarding Italy’s red card.

Law on the Italy red card needs a change but not far off

Ireland finished the weekend ensuring that should France slip up, they are still in with a chance at winning this year’s tournament. The big talking point though is a certain law. People say ruined a game of rugby and that changes must be made. Here I look at the incident in question and if this is too harsh a reaction.

The law

Law 3.20 states “If a front-row player is sent off, and the team cannot continue with contested scrums with players already on the field, then the team nominates another player to leave the playing area to enable an available front-row player to come on. The nominated player may act as a replacement.”

The backstory on the Italy red card

We will soon forget the result of the final match in Round Three of this year’s Six Nations. However, we will remember this game for a different reason, Law 3.20. Italy played three-quarters of the match with at least two players off the pitch. On top of that, ten of those minutes saw the Azzurri down to 12 men.

This became relevant to the game when Hame Faiva, Italy’s replacement hooker, was shown a red card. Earlier in the match, Italy made an early front row substitution due to an injury to Gianmarco Lucchesi. After a long discussion with his assistant referees and the TMO, Nika Amashukeli- a Georgian referee officiating his first Six Nations match- saw fit to show a red card for the tackle by Faiva on Irish hooker Sheehan. The tackle was high, with force and there was no mitigation to bring the sanction down to a yellow card.

Italy was down to 14 players thanks to the Italy red card, but things were about to get much worse for the visiting side. Italy soon declared that they had no other players capable of filling in at hooker, thus activating law 3.20. This meant that scrums became uncontested as a matter of player welfare and Italy received further punishments. Firstly, Italy had to have another player leave the field. Secondly, though, Italy had to substitute another of their players so they could bring on a prop for the scrums.

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Captain Michele Lamaro protested but, the referee decided that it would be number eight, Toa Halafihi, that would be sacrificed. Sadly, for Italy, the Six Nations and the wider rugby audience, the contest was over. While Italy showed admirable determination in defence and Ireland’s attack was far from perfect, there was little Italy could do. Additionally, Italy had to adapt to operating a lineout without an established hooker.

This thankfully for everyone involved is a very rare occurrence. But interestingly, it does bring up a lot of questions as to whether the law should stay the same or if some alteration is necessary.

From an Italian perspective, did they fully understand the rules?

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Ivan Nemer came onto the field to act as the third front-row forward and showed signs that potentially he did have some experience playing in the hooker position. His lineout throwing was far from perfect, but it was still better than many expected.

This means he might have had some experience as a hooker. If this was the case though, the Italian coaching staff potentially thought that they would remain with 14 players on the field and have uncontested scrums. They then may have deemed this a better situation for them than if they played with 14 and there were contested scrums with Nemer at hooker.

If this was the case, then that raises further moral questions of teams that encounter this situation in the future. How much training is enough to say a player can play in the front-row to a safe ability? If a player played hooker at age-grade level, does that qualify them to fill in at a domestic level? What about on the international stage? Player welfare must always come before the game. However, without some clarity here, situations may arise where players end up injured unwisely attempting to help the team.

Should a team have to lose an extra player?

Here is one area where I believe the rule should stay the same. With the loss of contested scrums, the team with 15 players misses out on opportunities to gain an advantage at the set-piece, to tire out opposition forwards and to run against a backline in retreat. This means they lose potential chances they may have to ultimately win the game. Therefore the team with the full complement of players should be compensated in some way. The most logical solution here is for another player to be sacrificed.

Furthermore, with this in place there is less incentive for a team that is getting beaten heavily in the scrum, to cheat and say that both hookers are injured so that they go to uncontested scrums.

What is the need for a third prop?

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Lamaro found the insistence of Nika Amashukeli for the need of a third prop, despite uncontested scrums being introduced, a point of real confusion. Why should there be a need for a third prop when they cannot play hooker either? This results in the likely substitution of a faster player with better open-field skills, such as a back-row forward, for the prop which further weakens the Italian side, and I cannot fully understand the reason for it. If anything, it results in potentially more risk. This is because more players then have to play out of position when alongside the prop playing hooker, there is also a backfilling in the back-row.

I think this is the part of the law that needs to change. It serves little purpose except for further disadvantaging the team down a player and needlessly further complicating the game. Rugby is a game trying to assert itself on the world stage as it competes for precious sponsorship money. The Six Nations is one of the few chances we get to showcase the international game on terrestrial television.

So, with the rules complicated at the best of times, further complications such as this only serve to warn away potential new fans of the sport. In any sport, there will be events such as this. What sets the most forward-thinking sports apart though is their ability to use these as chances to improve our game. We often criticise Rugby for not evolving with the times so why not take this golden opportunity?

Games coming up for both teams

Italy will look for their first win in the Six Nations as they host Scotland at Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The game is on March 12 at 2:15 pm GMT as it will be shown live on ITV according to The Telegraph. This is while Ireland will have a tough match in Twickenham Stadium in London, England. They will face England, a team right behind them at 4:45 pm GMT and it will be shown live on ITV on March 12.

Both teams will finish up on March 19. Ireland will host Scotland at Aviva Stadium in Dublin while Italy travels to Cardiff to face Wales at Principality Stadium.


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