Outspoken pundit and former England hooker Brian Moore has said that Jared Payne's red card at the weekend was justified and that a more rigorous application of that law would benefit the game overall.
Payne saw red after just four minutes of Ulster's agonising quarter-final loss to Saracens at Ravenhill on Saturday. The Kiwi was dismissed by referee Jérôme Garcès for colliding with an airborne Alex Goode after a kick-and-chase.
Payne appeared to have his eyes on the ball in the lead-up to the collision and seemed to show no intent to injure Goode, but for Moore these considerations were not enough to make the clash any less of a sending-off offence.
The BBC co-commentator also said that many of the arguments against showing a red card were based purely on emotion. In particular, Ulster coach Mark Anscombe was understandably moved to make such comments, saying:
"It's unfortunate. It was a collision in the air and did it warrant a red card? I think we're pretty hard done by there.
"Jared, the whole time, had his eyes on the ball. I mean, how's that a red card? I think that's the emotion of the injury,"
Moore's pronouncements on the issue were somewhat less sympathetic:
So high were the emotions around the decision that it felt like all semblance of sense left many fans and commenters. “The referee ruined the game”; “He kept his eyes on the ball”; “He couldn’t avoid the collision because he didn’t see Goode”; all manner of irrelevant nonsense was parroted.
It is quite simple. A chasing player (in this case, Payne) is solely in charge of deciding how he goes after the ball. He can keep his eyes on the ball and jump for it; he can watch it and glance at any player likely to contest it and wait for that player to catch it and then flatten him; what he cannot do is put himself in a position where he does neither and is not in a position to avoid taking out a jumping catcher.
He also dismissed the idea that the time at which an offence occurs should influence the colour of the card shown.
To start with, the offence is the same whenever it is committed; that it occurred so early makes it no less punishable than an offence committed later.
Even though his reasoning seems to give the kicker more entitlement to contest for a chased kick than a defender, Moore said that the law is there to protect "very vulnerable" catchers. Decisions to leave players on the field after similar incidents were wrong, he said, not this one.
The only viewpoint with which he could have some sympathy with was that Payne was ordered off because Goode left the field on a stretcher. He said: "that is not supposed to be a factor and, if it was, it was an error."
He went on to outline his reasons why more red cards for taking out catchers could have an overall benefit on the game:
If this decision was followed more widely, and it should be, the game would not be ruined as some suggest. It might make kicking a less effective weapon and we might see less of it, which would not be a bad thing.
There would still be room for well-executed kicks and well-timed chases and challenges but the almost default option of sticking it in the air and running after it would diminish.
That said, Ulster were magnificent in defeat and had they taken the game Saracens could not have complained.
In the same column, Moore made the interesting if not controversial observation that Paul O'Connell has perhaps been more important for Ireland than Brian O'Driscoll during their time in green. Praising Paulie's contribution to Munster's 47-23 win over Toulouse, Moore said: "Whilst the national sentiment may have been captured by O’Driscoll, there is at least an arguable case for saying that O’Connell has been as, if not more, important to the Irish side over their tenures."