Wed 14 Aug 2019 | 12:08

Law discussion: Red, red, yellow, nothing

Law discussion: Red, red, yellow, nothing
Wed 14 Aug 2019 | 12:08
Law discussion: Red, red, yellow, nothing

@rugby365com‘s law guru Paul Dobson looks at the inconsistencies in how officials deal with foul play!


Over the weekend there were four – at least four – incidents of stoppage and closer examination of an incident in which there was possible contact of a seriously dangerous kind.

We are going to look at the four.

As there is more and more collision contact in the changing game, there is more chance of injury, even serious injury. Some injuries, like hamstring and Achilles’ problems, can be solo efforts, but mostly injuries come about through contact with opponents.

In their efforts to rid the game of serious injuries, World Rugby (formerly the International Rugby Board), the body that governs the way the game is played, has made law changes, particularly to the scrum to lessen the danger to front-row players, and in the tackle. It has warred against the air tackle and the tackle above the shoulders, the high tackle.

High tackle used to mean a tackle above the waist in days when players were urged to tackle low. Then tackling moved up to alter the way the ball can be used and the high tackle came to mean an attack on neck and head.

Gridiron led the way in its concern for head injuries and their long-term effects, and rugby followed, and just this year has issued guidelines to referees in deciding what sanction should occur.


If there is contact with the neck or head, there will be a sanction and the World Rugby guidelines start with a red card (sending off) and turn to yellow or just a penalty if there are mitigating circumstances.

The criterion for a red card is straightforward: a shoulder charge (no arms tackle) to the head or neck of the ball-carrier

Mitigation Criteria

a. Tackler makes a definite attempt to change height in an effort to avoid the ball-carrier’s head
b. The ball-carrier suddenly drops in height (e.g. From earlier tackle, trips/falls, dives to score)
c. The tackler is unsighted prior to contact
d. “Reactionary” tackle, immediate release
e. Head contact is indirect (starts elsewhere on the body and then slips or moves up resulting in minor contact to the ball-carrier’s head or neck)


We have four incidents from the weekend, involving international and Currie Cup rugby, a level at which players (professionals) must by now know what the law requires.

1. Red 1 – after 39 minutes of New Zealand vs Australia

The Wallabies win a lineout, maul and then bash at the All Black defence. Hooper picks up the ball five metres from the All Black line but is immediately stopped by Dan Coles of New Zealand. Hooper has the ball but is going down as Scott Barrett, the All Black lock, drives, shoulder first, into Hooper’s neck/head region. The referee is a metre or so away with a clear view of the action as Barrett charges in.

The referee finds no mitigation and sends Barrett off the field – the fourth All Black sent off in 583 Tests.

Of the mitigating reasons above, b does not apply, as, far from being taken unawares, Barrett actually adjusts his height to Hooper’s as Hooper is dropping down.

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2. Red 2 – after 17 minutes of Golden Lions vs Blue Bulls

From an overthrown lineout, Johan Grobbelaar, the Blue Bulls hooker, snaps up the ball and charges ahead. Golden Lions wing Madosh Tambwe grabs Grobbelaar. They are both on their feet when Fred Eksteen, the Blue Bulls flank, who is playing his very first match for the Blue Bulls, charges in, shoulder first, arms down, and his shoulder makes contact with Tambwe’s head.

The referee shows Eksteen a red card and off he goes.

3. Yellow card – 48 minutes into the match between the Sharks and the Cheetahs

Curwin Bosch goes back into his 22 to get a loose ball and then he starts to run. Others join in and in no time the Sharks are battering at the Cheetahs’ line 80 metres downfield from where Bosch retrieved the ball. They attack hither and thither till Bosch throws a long pass to his right, to Tera Mtembu who scores. But there is a hitch.

The referee had been alerted to foul play and back they all went back to the Cheetahs 10-metre line. There Abongile Nonkontwana of the Cheetahs was tackled by Mtembu. They went to ground. Rabz Maxwane of the Cheetahs bent over the tackled players to establish an offside line. Craig Burden (16) of the Sharks looked at the scene, lined Maxwane up and drove into Maxwane, right shoulder first, right arm by his side. The referee and the TMO consulted and agreed that Burden be sent to the sin bin for the charge into the top of Maxwane’s shoulder.

Unlike Barrett and Eksteen when they received their red cards and showed n emotion, Burden dissented, claiming that the contact had been on Maxwane’s shoulder.

The contact had been near to but not on the neck and head, but it was clearly an offence under Law 9.

11. Players must not do anything that is reckless or dangerous to others.
13. A player must not tackle an opponent early, late or dangerously. Dangerous tackling includes, but is not limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders.
16. A player must not charge or knock down an opponent carrying the ball without attempting to grasp that player.
20. Dangerous play in a ruck or maul.
b. A player must not make contact with an opponent above the line of the shoulders.

4. Play on – 60 minutes into the match between Western Province and the Pumas

Chris van Zyl tackles big Le Roux Roets, the ball-carrier, around the ankles. Both fall to the ground. First on the scene is Chad Solomon (16), who crouches, hands out to play the pall. De-Jay Terblanche (17) of the Pumas drives in and his shoulder makes contact with Solomon’s head. Play goes on but when there is a break for a scrum, the referee and the TMO examine the incident. The referee says to the Western Province captain: “That looked like two players just going for the ball.” He looks at the replays and then sums up, saying: “I’m seeing a clear clean-out by Pink [Terblanche], wrapping his arms, and the Blue player [Solomon] is just in an awkward position.” The TMO says “I’m happy with that.” And play moves to the scrum, and Solomon goes off for a head injury assessment (HIA).

This can certainly be debated.

There was nothing awkward or unusual about Solomon’s position.
Terblanche does not seem to be going for the ball as his charge takes him beyond it and his hands are not down to the ball.
There is no clear evidence that he was making any attempt to wrap his arms around Solomon.
Terblanche’s left upper arm made direct contact with Solomon’s head.

It’s difficult to understand in the light of the other incidents we have recorded, that this could be a matter of “play on” – no red card, no yellow card and no penalty. After all, it infringes three aspects of the law on dangerous play.

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