The rugby administrators have become colour blind and can’t see that all the yellow and red cards are destroying the integrity of the game. The player’s safety is undoubtedly the most important aspect of rugby but the matter needs to be addressed to protect both the integrity of rugby and the players.
It no longer is a case of the best team winning the match, but which teams concedes the least cards at the discretion of the referee. The Super Rugby play-offs are the best example of how cards have influenced the results of games. The Lions were heavily favoured by the yellow cards in both the quarter- and semi-final matches. In fact, it would be fair to say that the two yellow cards against the Sharks and Hurricanes secured them a final berth. In the final it was ironic that the very same system, a red card in the thirty eighth minute, ended the Lions’ aspirations of being crowned champions.
Over the years referees have always had a big influence on results, but in the electronic and professional age the four officials between them almost control the result. Also, in South Africa there seems to be more cards than in the other rugby-playing countries.
Nick Mallet summarised it perfectly when he said that rugby matches need to be kept an even contest and the individuals that transgress should be punished, not the team. The players that are carded should be replaced and sanctioned financially and/or by being banned.
The sending off of Kwagga Smith destroyed the Super Rugby final not only for the Lions but for the 63,000 spectators, a television audience of millions and sponsors alike. All these stakeholders spent good money to see a fair final and were denied this. Bluntly put, rugby as a company was in breach of contract with its stakeholders as it did not deliver what was promised.
If rugby is to be sustainable and grow in a commercial and competitive world, the administrators will have to be pragmatic with the laws that govern the game. It is also a game that has become paranoid to its detriment with regard to health and safety. They will have to shed the paranoia and become pragmatists.