KSA Shark ©

To card, or not to card

Written by Andre Bosch (KSA Shark ©)

Posted in :In the news, Super Rugby on 14 Mar 2011 at 17:22
Tagged with : , , , ,

André Watson, South Africa’s refereeing boss, has expressed his concern in the use (overuse?) of yellow cards (sin bin) for players who infringe at the tackle.

SA Rugby Referees reports that Watson has told his referees that he fears that general warnings are given too early and  that as a consequence  the issue of yellow cards that produces a mismatch in that one side plays on a man short. Watson insists that the mechanical counting of penalties or free kicks resulting in a yellow card is wrong. The problem with the general warning is that it then paints the referee into a corner and a yellow card follows.

He gives as a criterion for a general warning the negative and repeated  infringement by a team in order to spoil possession.

He also states that conceding a penalty when on defence is not necessarily negative. He quotes Tappe Henning, saying the game is not meant to be played faultlessly. The aim is not to have a game totally free of penalties and free kicks.

Watson says: “It is ok to award penalties and free kicks as it is part of the game. What a referee should not allow is negative play that is clearly intended to spoil.

“I would much rather see 3 or 4 more penalties/freekicks than a player sent off for 10 minutes unnecessarily.”

Watson then quotes something he wrote last year on the matter of yellow cards.

One of the management tools available to referees is the yellow card, but it’s a subject that continues to cause debate, with two schools of thought prevailing.

Those against its use claim that:

• the team with a player in the sin bin concedes an average of 10 points during that period,

• the outcome of the game is changed when a player is sent to the bin, and

• referees play cards and, like a card game, they make a lottery of the game.

Proponents maintain that:

• if a player plays dirty or negatively affects the game, he needs to be yellow-carded, and

• players transgress the Laws, not the referee – the latter simply has to apply the Law.

SANZAR, the body governing both Super Rugby and the Tri-Nations competitions, is considering proposals that will see 15 players from each team on the park at all times. This will mean that should a player be sent off by the referee, the player will be replaced from the bench in order to ensure equality in numbers.

I can already hear the shouts of victory from the one camp! But what about negative play, for example, if the coach instructs his second-best flank to go onto the field and late-tackle the opposition star flyhalf and ‘write him off’? The referee will order him off but we’ll then send our best flank on and have a better chance of winning the game as their star No.10 will be off the field because of injury. Clearly this is not the objective of maintaining the 15-vs-15 status.

In order to stop this, it’s proposed to severely punish the player sent off to discourage both players and coaches from being party to this type of behaviour.

Those supporting the retention of the current system would argue that one should not point fingers at only the referees but that the players and coaches are equally, in fact, more responsible for what happens on the field. Referees are human and will miss infringements but players also make mistakes.

It’s clear that both camps’ viewpoints have merit. I probably won’t change your particular viewpoint but I do want to talk to the family of match officials of which I continue to be a proud member.

The referee should:

• protect the ethos of the game, as it is bigger than any coach, player, administrator, referee or supporter; ensure a fair contest, never an equal one, as the players determine the latter; and

• apply the Laws according to the game in front of you, not the Law book.

Watson quotes the chairman of Western Province Referees’ Society, Dan de Villiers, a top Currie Cup referee in the ‘90s in a letter sent to his Society:  “Don’t get me wrong: foul or dangerous play must not be tolerated and those players intent on ruining the game as a sport must be removed from the field and dealt with through the correct channels. But I’m concerned that some referees use the yellow card to control players instead of brushing up on their people-management skills.

“What it comes down to is communication. Within the Laws, it’s our job as referees to keep everyone on the field playing within the bounds of a fair contest. The action of removing one player from the field is severe and in many instances can swing the game completely to the advantage of the non-offending team. This is fine if the sanction is warranted; let’s just ensure we’ve done our part before the card is used.”

So, what can we do about this? While understanding and accepting that the man with the whistle – and his assistants on the side – will make errors from time to time, we all need to keep in mind the following regarding the issue of cards:

• Do not enforce, rather adjudicate.

• Do not issue a card when you feel you need to take control – you probably have already lost it.

• Do not take player infringements personally – if they don’t listen, they need to feel the pain.

• Do not issue a card for repeated infringements too quickly. It’s part of the game that players will infringe. They don’t always infringe in order to spoil, but in desperation to defend, for example. Simply penalise the infringement.

• Do not be scared or hesitant to remove from the field players who are guilty of foul and dangerous play. The game does not need this and no-one will blame a referee who is hard on foul and dangerous play.

• Do not always nail the retaliator harder than the instigator. Why not penalise both equally?

• Do not be a bean counter and keep score of the number of infringements. It will colour your water and, in fact, paint a picture in your mind that is inaccurate. It might just be desperation, which is as much part of the game as missing a short putt is part of golf.

• Do not get involved in debates on the field of play.

• Use downtime to communicate with teams – use the captain – when a negative tendency develops. (Note that I say ‘tendency’ and not a one-off incident.)

• Do manage and communicate to an offender when he’s foolish.

• Do distinguish between blatant intent to spoil (deliberate infringement) and over-eagerness.

• Do ask yourself whether the game of the day actually deserves the card or not.

• Do distinguish between a blatant infringement for negative play and a technical infringement.

• Do realise that the players and spectators are looking to see a contest, and don’t spoil this contest unless the infringement leaves you no option.

I know it’s not easy, but like the application of advantage, I believe the excellent refereeing performance separates itself from the average performance when the referee and not the cards manage the game.


  • Card the F%$^ers!!!!!!!!!!!!

    McCaw has shown that he is quite happy to give away repeated penalties rather than concede a try.

    Carding him will or one of his foot soldiers will teach them a lesson.

  • Comment 1, posted at 14.03.11 17:35:54 by KSA Shark © Reply
    KSA Shark ©
  • Good article morne. 😉 its never too early for a warning! The earlier it is the longer they have to play by the rules!

  • Comment 2, posted at 14.03.11 17:48:38 by Rahul Reply
  • Great article, it would be interesting to know how the citing commission decide who gets a citing and who not,because the stormers game was full of blatent offences but nobody got cited.

  • Comment 3, posted at 14.03.11 18:07:53 by Danman110 Reply
  • @Danman110 (Comment 3) : thats easy… If youre an aussie team you wine about the way saffas play and they get cited. If your a saffa, you take it like a man and move on 🙂

  • Comment 4, posted at 14.03.11 21:26:52 by Rahul Reply

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