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'I think as a coach, you'd prefer this way' - Would you be in favour of an orange-card rule in rugby?

The rule would see players effectively sin-binned for 15 minutes while an independent review into their illegal challenge takes place as play continues.

The trial law, which was one of 10 rules approved by World Rugby to be tried (or not) at the leisure of unions during the COVID-19 pandemic, may prove popular if it's ever fully greenlit.
The trial law, which was one of 10 rules approved by World Rugby to be tried (or not) at the leisure of unions during the COVID-19 pandemic, may prove popular if it's ever fully greenlit.
Image: Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

NOT LONG BEFORE Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey dialled in for Thursday’s The42 Rugby Weekly podcast, World Rugby approved 10 optional law trials which are designed to help rugby unions reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in their respective countries.

The law trials include the removal of the choke tackle, no scrum resets, and goal-line drop-outs, but are temporary, opt-in, and can be picked and chosen at will or even completely ignored by each national union.

It’s unlikely that any will be implemented in the professional game, with New Zealand already ruling out the adoption of the trials ahead of their Super Rugby franchises’ return to action on 13 June. It’s expected that most unions will follow suit.

One prospective rule change did especially tickle the fancy of Bernard, Murray and Gavan, however, and would only be applicable to the professional game if were ever to be passed into law. And Bernard believes that with the right framework put in place around it, it should be.

We refer, of course, to the introduction of an orange card for possible red-card, high-tackle offences.

This rule would apply only where a TMO/Citing/Hawkeye review is available. It would occur during instances whereby the referee and their match officials are unsure of the commensurate sanction for a high-tackle offence. The offending player would be removed from play for 15 minutes while an independent review into their tackle takes place.

If ultimately deemed guilty of a red-card offence, the player would not return. If the offence was deemed worthy of only a yellow card or even just a penalty, the player would return after 15 minutes. So, even if the tackle wasn’t ultimately worthy of a card in the eyes of the review official, the offending team would have been reduced to 14 players for the 15-minute review window.

The latter point was broached by Gavan, who questioned the likelihood of such a verdict in practical terms and suggested that referees would likely arrive at a penalty-only decision themselves without requiring an orange-card review.

Murray and Bernard discussed one small tweak to the orange-card rule which would prevent such an anomaly in any case, and the latter explained why he and his fellow coaches would by and large be in favour of it becoming part of the game, even though it would likely lead to instances where players occasionally serve an extra five minutes on the sideline for what was ultimately a yellow-card offence in the eyes of the reviewing official.

Gavan: “The downside, obviously, Murray, is that you could have a situation where the final verdict is that a challenge is only worthy of a penalty, and yet you’ve lost a player for 15 minutes. But — that also does seem somewhat unlikely, doesn’t it, that a referee would first look at an incident and not be able to determine themselves that it’s just a penalty?

“I feel as though if a decision is going to go to that review, it has to be worthy of more than just a penalty, and it would be unlikely that the people looking at the incident while the game continues will come back with an assessment of it being only worthy of a penalty.”

Murray: “Yeah, this is one of those that has been proposed, or discussed, in the recent past as well. The suggestion at that stage was that the referee would decide it’s definitely at least a yellow first, the player goes off, and then there’s that window for a review to assess whether it’s actually a red. So, then, you don’t get the immediate pressure on the referee when they’re a little bit uncertain, when there are a crowd and two teams waiting for play to resume.

It allows the review official to be a bit more clear-cut with the decision, to get every single angle, and be absolutely spot-on with it. So, I think if it was something that was to be carried forward, it would be the case that the yellow card stands no matter what — that’s the referee’s decision — but it can be upgraded to a red card in that window.

“And as Bernard mentioned, you then avoid the ‘bad’ red-card decisions, and you get the ones that should be red cards right more often. It’s never going to be perfect, there’s always that subjective element to it.”

Gavan: “Bernard, from a coach’s point of view: obviously, you can imagine if you’re on the wrong end of one of these decisions — not necessarily in that an injustice is done, but, say, one of your players has a challenge reviewed under this system and the verdict winds up being a yellow card, but you’ve lost the player for 15 minutes instead of 10: that’s a bone of contention.

“But would the point not be, really, that the yellow card he received was, actually, an ‘orange card’, i.e. a yellow card and a half, and that the challenge was borderline, therefore it’s not quite as unfair to lose the player [for the extra five minutes]?”

Bernard: “Yeah, I think as a coach, you’d prefer this way. At the moment, if it turns out that, a couple of days later, an opposition player is cited, and it should have been a red card, he misses two weeks but it’s irrelevant to you. All coaches know that [referees] are not going to get every decision right, but there is less margin for error in this [orange-card] system and it will also affect the game you’re in, in that moment, and that’s the most important thing.

I was chatting to a few coaches this morning, we talked about it, and the general consensus was that we would prefer this than the current situation where there might be three or four minutes of a game where the referee has to run down to look at a big screen, he’s talking to his TMO, there’s pressure from the crowd, the game loses momentum, and sometimes they don’t even get the right decision anyway! The TMO in the studio might not have the pressure of having to make the decision live, he can really take his time, and I think we’ll actually get more good decisions, to be honest.

“If there’s the odd wrong one where you lose a player for an extra five minutes, well, you’d have to imagine it’s for foul play, head-high — it’s a matter of the severity of it but it’s a dangerous tackle. I don’t see a situation in which somebody gets an orange card where they haven’t made a dangerous tackle.

“What we’ll be arguing about is the legality of whether it should have been red or not. So I don’t think [the extra five minutes] is a big issue, and certainly from the group I was talking to this morning, they didn’t have any issue with it either.”

What do you think? Would you be in favour of the introduction of an orange-card rule in rugby union? Vote below and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.


Poll Results:

Yes (251)
No (232)


You can listen to the full episode of The42 Rugby Weekly with Bernard, Murray and Gavan on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Spotify, or wherever you get yours.

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