SANZAAR to fight for rugby’s ‘integrity’ as 20-minute red card gets reprieve

Southern Hemisphere nations say they won’t stop pushing for the 20-minute red card to be embraced globally after SANZAAR was given approval for an extension of the contentious trial during The Rugby Championship.

SANZAAR boss Brendan Morris announced the rule, which allows for a sent-off player to be replaced on the field after 20 minutes, would continue to be used during the Test clashes between Australia, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand over the next two months.

After being used in Super Rugby since 2020 and The Rugby Championship last year, it appeared the 20-minute red card was on life support in recent months when World Rugby’s high-performance committee voted against it being rolled out in a global trial, a neccesary step for the law to be adopted. The full 80-minute red card was used in July Test tours.

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie, who was on the World Rugby law review group that recommended a global trial, told the Herald last month the rejection was “disappointing”.

Highlighting the growing divide between north and south, the 20-minute red card is popular among SANZAAR nations but has little support among the European unions, who don’t believe it provides a strong enough deterrent.

But World Rugby has left the door for future reform slightly ajar by giving SANZAAR the green light. Informed sources say SANZAAR are keen for it to be used in Super Rugby next year as well but require further approvals.

Darcy Swain is show a red card by referee James Doleman.Credit:AP

In strong quotes issued via a release on Thursday, Morris said the 20-minute red card was crucial to maintaining the “integrity” of Test rugby.

“As a group we firmly believe the integrity of international matches is very important and that wherever possible matches must be a contest of 15 versus 15,” Morris said.

“Within the context of the game’s laws, SANZAAR believes that a 20-minute red card allows for a significant deterrent to deliberate acts of foul play, while it also protects the contest of 15 on 15, which is what our unions, broadcasters and fans are telling us is important.

“SANZAAR stands alongside World Rugby’s important work on managing foul play and player welfare and will conduct a formal research project across the 2022 TRC period with all comparative findings to be shared with World Rugby at the end of the season. The aim is to gather the necessary information that allows the 20-minute red card trial to be accepted into the full laws of the game in the future.”

Marika Koroibete’s red card tackle against France in 2021. He was later exonerated.Credit:Stan

With a moratorium on law changes and trials inside a year before a World Cup, there is no chance of a global trial before 2024, nor permanent adoption before 2025.

But with the number of red cards having grown hugely in the last few years, via World Rugby’s push to reduce head and neck contact and resulting concussions, leading coaches have expressed support for the 20-minute red card.

“There’s people who think there’s no consequences if it’s only a 20-minute red card, but the consequence for the individual is that [a suspension] starts at six weeks. They get sent off and then they don’t get to come back on. The team is hurt by that.”

England coach Eddie Jones, who was also in the law review group and supports the 20-minute red card, warned rugby was spiralling “out of control” on the use cards during the July international window.

Dave Rennie and Eddie Jones both support the 20-minute red card.Credit:Getty

Jones said the red card for All Blacks prop Angus Ta’avao for a head clash in the second Test against Ireland was a good example of why a 20-minute red card should be used.

“That’s a more commonsense approach,” Jones said. “The All Blacks prop, he got more injured than the ball carrier, there was nothing intentional about him, it was a complete accident. He’s 135kg … and he got beaten by a change of direction and his head hit their head.

“To lose a player for that sort of incident I don’t think is in the spirit of the game.”

Rennie said safety was front and centre of everyone’s minds, but the pressure of live decision-making could lead to poor outcomes.

“A lot of it is not thuggery, you’d say reckless [acts] but certainly not malicious, a lot of it,” he said.

“Then there’s the inconsistency of it. There’s mitigating circumstances that can bring it down from a red to a yellow, but referees are forced to make decisions pretty quickly based on whatever angles there are and, invariably, post-game there are more angles that give a better picture.”

“The 20-minute red card allows for referee error and also means that a team has been punished for 20 minutes. It’s a long time without a player, but we get a game of 15 on 15.

“I’d hate to see a World Cup final where there’s a red card given early, which is actually inaccurate and affects the result.

“We all want consistency around it and my preference would be a 20-minute red card. Certainly, up north, they feel differently.”

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