The use of the red card in rugby remains such a huge talking point for the sport. From the Champions Cup to Super Rugby, the definition of a red card and the just form of punishment to accompany one are not just conversation pieces for pundits and talking heads: they're fundamental to the future of the game. If anyone needed a reminder why this issue is so urgent, Steve Thompson gave another heartbreaking interview today about his battle with dementia.
One of the more intriguing refereeing decisions in rugby today was about a red card that wasn't given in England.
It came in the game between top-of-the-table Leicester and Harlequins, who sit in third place in the Premiership. One of the game's flashpoints occurred late in the first half of the game with Harlequins leading 15-12.
Ref Wayne Barnes stopped time to consult with his TMO Tom Foley after a high tackle on Joe Marler by Leicester second row Calum Green. The tackle was very high. Green stands quite tall and his shoulder smashes Marler's jaw. Marler's ear was bleeding after the incident. In a vacuum, it was a clear red card offense.
However, Barnes also noted that Harlequins number eight Alex Dombrandt has pushed Marler into the tackle.
Here's what he told the TMO after viewing the tackle from a few angles.
'Obviously you can't push people into contact. He [Dombrandt] accelerates that. That's the offense isn't it? It is a high tackle, but that's all caused by Dombrandt. Dombrandt accelerates Marler into the contact, which means Green has no chance to do anything. That's a penalty against Dombrandt, isn't it?'
Should it have been a Leicester red?
Alex Dombrandt penalised here for pushing Joe Marler into contact 🤔
The headshot from Green is made irrelevant as World Rugby want to clamp down on players pushing their teammates into contact!
Thoughts?! #HARLvLEI #GallagherPrem pic.twitter.com/IjwbcKp9Yn
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) April 23, 2022
Upon further review, Barnes decided that it was actually penalty against Harlequins.
It's the first time we've seen a red card not given because of an intervention from the attacking team.
Of all the referees in World Rugby, Barnes is probably the best communicator, and he makes a clear case as to why this wasn't a red card.
BT Sport's commentary team would also note that there is a World Rugby directive asking referees to stop players from ‘dangerously pushing their own players into contact’.
However, was Green not at fault for his positioning - regardless of how Dombrandt intervened?
Rugby Twitter seems divided on this one. Here are the most eloquent takes from the two different sides.
BT Sport say there’s a new directive from World Rugby to clamp down on ‘dangerously pushing their own players into contact’ whatever that is.
Wayne Barnes just overruled a clear red card because of it and genuinely, I think it might be the stupidest thing they’ve ever done.
— Josh Gardner (@joshgardner) April 23, 2022
Wayne Barnes, that’s excellent refereeing.
You can’t push players into contact, and it’s rarely called. Green would’ve had time to adjust his height if Marler’s speed wasn’t increased.
Excellent call. #HARvLEI #GallagherPrem
— Tight Five Rugby (@TightFive_Rugby) April 23, 2022
Speaking on BT Sport, former Leicester player Lawrence Dallaglio said it was a "harsh decision".
"It's a dangerous play from Alex Dombrandt, but I think you'd expect that just to be no penalty and just go back to where we were before. But Wayne Barnes is saying, 'the attacking team has a duty of care as well'."
The incident would not have a massive bearing on the final scoreline as Harlequins won 26-20. Leicester welcome Leinster to Welford Road in a two weeks time, in what should be a fascinating game between two of the top clubs in these islands.