There have been some worrying signs over the past few Super 14 weekends that South African rugby may be trying to reclaim its old unwanted reputation for being the undisciplined and over-robust member of the SANZAR partnership.
There were three yellow cards handed out in the big derby at Loftus this past weekend, two in the Sharks/Stormers match the week before and most would agree that a couple should have been forthcoming from referee Willie Roos in the opening north/south clash between the Stormers and Bulls in February.
Gavin Rich writes for Superrugby that all of the cards produced by Mark Lawrence in the last match were warranted, and had the referee been allowed the benefit of consulting the TMO over foul play, then Bulls prop Jaco Engels would undoubtedly have been carded as well.
When players transgress, they must be punished, it’s as simple as that, and none of the individual players have any reason for complaint. The Bulls, in particular, do have to clean up their act, and if their response to having to play a game alien to them is to become bad tempered about it, then I am even more worried.
However, what the Loftus game did do was prompt me to think more deeply about something that former top referee Freek Burger had told me earlier in the week. Burger, who until two years ago was the manager of referees at the South African Rugby Union, reckons it should be the players, and not the teams and spectators who should be punished for yellow card offences.
He drew up a proposal where he suggested to the International Rugby Board that instead of sending players off for ten minutes, a yellow card should signify an early shower.
But instead of forcing his team to play with 14 men, Burger proposed that the yellow carded player should be replaced. It is his argument that playing 15 against 14 makes it an unfair contest, and has too much of a dramatic impact on the way the game is played and, quite often, also the end result.
There are probably some readers out there who are now asking “But surely the team should be punished in some way?” The answer to that is that they will be. Under Burger’s proposal, you would not be allowed to reinforce the bench during play, so a yellow card effectively removes a substitute option, and the more yellow cards you get the more the impact is felt later when you would be wanting to employ super-subs.
And having a key player removed from the game for the rest of the match is not exactly something most teams would want either. So it is not as if the team really wins from the scenario proposed by Burger.
Ultimately the real winner though is he spectator because keeping it as a 15 against 15 match does not cheapen the occasion or too dramatically alter the contest.
In the Loftus match between the Bulls and the Sharks, 26 of the 29 points scored by the winning team came at the time the Bulls were reduced to 14 men. It could also be claimed that the tide turned against the Stormers in the previous week’s narrow defeat in Durban when Schalk Burger was carded.
Even if your team does not concede points when the player is off, invariably the defence is forced to scramble, and this saps energy and does have an impact on momentum and flow. For instance, to illustrate the preceding point, we should not assume that the Bulls were the only team in the Loftus battle to be disadvantaged by a yellow card.
When Johan Ackermann was sin-binned in the early minutes, it came at a crucial stage for the Sharks in the sense that this was the period of play when the battle between the packs, the struggle for ascendancy and go-forward, was most crucial.
It is during the first 20 minutes that the dye is cast with regards the upfront battle, and having their lock off the field for much of that time did disadvantage the Sharks and have a key say on how the game was played.
Had Burger’s proposal been adopted, Ackermann would have been punished by spending the bulk of his last game for the Sharks watching from the stands, but the Sharks would have been able to introduce another forward to even up the battle.
With so many yellow cards these days coming from what could be considered technical offences and so many of them also being 50/50 cases, Burger’s proposal does make a lot of sense.Tweet