Reckless? Deliberate? What deserves a red card?

Over the last couple of weeks we have seen 3 separate incidents which have highlighted two of the biggest issues in the game concerning the officiating of acts of serious foul play.

These two issues we are going to look at are:

  1. World Rugby’s current emphasis on penalising acts that are deemed reckless, rather than those that are deliberate or intentional
  2. The confused approach to defining what we use to measure the severity of the incident; is it the action of the offending player or the outcome of the action that we should be looking at?

The 3 high profile incidents we will look at are George North on the receiving end of Adam Thompstone’s challenge in the Leicester Northampton fixture,  Kurtly Beale’s yellow card for Wasps and the red card given to Cardiff Blues’ George Earle.


George North

We covered the George North controversy in some detail in this article but let’s remind ourselves of the incident:

The tackler (Thompstone) was given a yellow card for his actions because the officials deemed that North fell on to his side and not his head, neck or shoulders. The guidelines deem this a yellow card.



This decision clearly highlights a problem with the way tackles in the air are dealt with, in that the officials are told the card colour depends on where the tackled player lands on his body and not on the actions of the tackler.

Thompstone’s actions weren’t meant to harm North but his instinctive reaction was certainly deliberate and reckless. When he made the tackle he had no idea what the outcome was going to be be, it was pure luck that North didn’t land on top of his head or neck.

This lack of knowledge of the outcome of an action is the reason why World Rugby has to penalise the action and not the outcome; these are within the control of the offending player while the subsequent outcome isn’t.


George Earle 

As the footage below shows, the Cardiff second row was sent off in the Challenge Cup fixture against Bath for making contact with the eye area of a Bath player in a maul.

Under current World Rugby guidelines this offence is now a red card but most people would argue that it was a reckless, rather than a deliberate act. If a player has his head down in the maul and blindly swings his arms should this be punished?

One school of thought is that players need to take more responsibility for their actions but the contrary view is that World Rugby is now penalising accidents.

In the North example where a player is taken in the air, the sanction was based on the outcome of the incident. However, as the Earle example shows, in the case of contact with the eye area the outcome of the action isn’t considered, it is the action itself that is assessed and punished.

Earle was certainly reckless in his arm and hand movements but he was arguably far less reckless than Thompstone, who took out a player in the air. One incident resulted in a minor injury (if any injury), while the other resulted in a neck injury/concussion [delete as appropriate].


Kurtley Beale

Our third incident involved Kurtley Beale and a yellow card award for a high tackle on Connacht’s wing:

Given World Rugby’s recent pronouncement on a further tightening of the officiating of high tackles (read here), we are going to see far more of these sorts of tackles being penalised, and probably a few more red cards.

The video shows the Connacht winger dip in to the tackle and Beale certainly makes some contact with the head. He doesn’t swing his arm or apply a stiff arm in the tackle and it certainly looks like a genuine attempt to make a tackle.

In this case the officials have deemed it reckless and therefore adjudged Beale has committed an offence, but does it deserve this level of sanction, if indeed any sanction at all?

The officials focus on the action, rather than the outcome, in these sorts of incidents which is the opposite approach to the tackle in the air. If the high tackle guidelines were written in a similar way to the tackle in the air then officials would be looking at the point of impact on the head and the force used. We would get a completely different outcome to the approach used today.


Final Thoughts

Firstly it is worth saying that World Rugby have good intentions at heart in these guidelines but they are in danger of making rugby unplayable. We all agree that risks should be minimised where possible but we need to ensure that the focus is in the right areas.

If we imagine a spectrum with a deliberate attempt to maim at one end and a complete accident at the other, where do we draw the line which defines if an act is reckless or not?

Is there now no such thing as an accidental coming together, or will officials be asked to determine which party was the most reckless and therefore be subject to a sanction?

Our view has always been that it should be the action that is punished and not the outcome. This would mean we are comfortable with the red card for George Earle but would also have deemed Adam Thompstone’s offence to be a red card. Beale’s actions would not warrant a card.



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