The Herald - Herald Sport
The game is not suffering a red card crisis. In fact, there should have been more
ON the numerous sports desks for which I have worked over the years, one annual task was the end of season review in which the hardy sons – and they were nearly all sons way back when – of sports writing toil would look back at what made the headlines week-in and week-out.
I have just completed my research of rugby season 22-23 and as I acknowledged last week, there has been progress of a kind for Scottish rugby at various levels, and I think there’s more to come.
If you judged the season merely by headlines, however, then you would have to conclude that this sport of ours is suffering a collective near-madness which some have called the RED CARD CRISIS – always in big letters to show how serious it is.
We all know what has caused this. As they anticipate having to pay gazillions of cash to former players in forthcoming court cases, World Rugby and the various unions are having to show that they really do care for player welfare and have clamped down mightily on head bashes – I’d call it head tackling but in every case I have seen recently, the red card has followed a collision that had little do with proper tackling.
I’ve possibly been a bit unfair to the governing bodies, as they genuinely care about player welfare and in the face of unimpeachable research they have taken action to try and stop the head hits that can and do cause brain damage.
I acknowledge here that since my own diagnosis late last year of Parkinson’s Disease – you may recall that the first question the consultant asked was “did you play rugby?” – I have taken a very keen interest in the whole issue of head hits and I believe more and not fewer red cards should have been issued during the season.
Yep, you read that correctly. The problem is that you only ever see headlines about red cards when they occur in the elite level of international and club rugby. Fair
enough, it’s what the media does – concentrate on the professionals, not least because there’s usually broadcast coverage with juicy replays and still shots that everyone wants in order to get those all-important clicks on the internet.
VAR is well-established in rugby union, and despite my initial misgivings, I simply cannot imagine ever watching a top-level match without the referee having the ability to make up his or her mind
or change it with the help of a TMO and VAR.
What I do find disturbing is the number of times coaches, players, and former players turned pundits, have questioned red cards, even after VAR has shown that the card was correctly issued. They are trying to make out that for the good of the game, fewer red cards should be issued because a player sent off automatically devalues a match. What tommyrot - the deserved departure of a player or two can often make a match more exciting.
It’s thanks to VAR that we have had an increase in the detection of foul play, but I also cannot believe the number of times that officials missed the occurrence of head hits. Take the case of Mohamed Haouas playing for France against
Scotland. His head butting of Ben White was disgraceful and done in full view of the referee, but it took a TMO review to get him red carded.
The thing is that Haouas had “previous” for such offences. Back in 2020, also against Scotland, he picked up his first red card in the Six Nations against Scotland. The burly prop clearly punched Scottish captain Jamie Ritchie in the face, but it wasn’t picked up by the match referee or his assistants in what was admittedly an ongoing handbags fracas. It was only the intervention of the TMO some time after the offence that saw Haouas do the walk of shame.
Haouas is clearly a hothead and the news this week that he had been taken into custody by French police in connection with domestic violence charges came as no shock to me. If found guilty the French Rugby Federation will come under severe pressure – should such a violent person be playing rugby? The game is tough enough without people who have temper issues being allowed to play.
One thing that did strike me as a positive development over the season was the number of players who accepted they had done something wrong and agreed to have specialist coaching in order to cut the length of their bans. In the professional era that’s a professional approach to the problem, and as I have said before, I would like to see the practice of specialist coaching on tackling extended to all levels of our sport.
That approach will eventually reduce the number of red cards in the game. Until then, we need them.
What I find disturbing is red cards being questioned even after VAR has shown the card was correctly issued