Yellow Cards in Schools Rugby

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Around thirty Yellow Cards have been shown in the first two weeks of Schools Segment ‘A’ Rugby. A red is shown after two yellow cards to a player. Some were lucky not to have been shown a red card considering the persistent calls by World Rugby to stamp out dangerous play.

 Almost every Division 1 Segment A match produced two cards each. Some are reaching a high of four yellow cards. The only game with no yellow cards was Science vs Isipathana, but lucky to have got away with one bordering red. With no citing in sight, the responsibility for greater discipline rests with coaches, players, and referees.

The majority of the cards were for dangerous play, and some for repeated infringements. There was no issue with a red card in the first week, but one for two repeated yellow cards in week one. However, the limitation to a yellow card does not mean there was no probability of the need to convert some to red. The cards were for high tackles as well as dangerous cleanouts.

I have seen discussions and contributions on various social media platforms that players are returning after three years, and constructive rugby may not be imminent. Hence, the players need time to settle. Does this mean referees must consider the environment before blowing the whistle or applying sanctions? I believe they have done so and not used the dangerous play framework to the letter. For example, some of the yellow cards escalated to a send-off, and a penalty turned to a yellow card would have been in order. That points to a need for coaches to be vigilant and advise players on the requirements for player welfare.

On the one hand, there are pleas to empathise with the player not having played rugby. On the other hand, the same mindset pointed out that their team was disadvantaged because it was yellow and not red. The arguments need to extend to read as “teams are at a disadvantage as they have not played rugby for two years – a send-off results in adding more burdens.

Rugby is a high-contact sport that results in many injuries due to contact phases during match-play. Whilst injury is inevitable in rugby and the ‘laws of the game’; there is a need to reduce such injuries. One aspect of reducing injuries is through proper training and conditioning. However, that is not the area we are discussing, but the need to prevent damage resulting from dangerous play. The responsibility lies with the school, the coaches and the referee.

Injuries are associated with the breakdown, including the tackle, ruck and maul. Strategies to upskill player knowledge and techniques are the job of the coach. Getting the proper attitude is the responsibility of the coach and the school, including the various old boy rugby committees

Surveillance of legal and illegal ruck cleanouts and the sanctions imposed by the on-field referees will help identify whether referees are enforcing the law according to the ‘laws of the game’. This enforcement will consequently contribute to creating and implementing other injury prevention strategies.

Players should play the game following the game’s laws and be mindful of their safety and that of others. Coaches and trainers of the game are responsible for ensuring players’ preparation in a manner that complies with the World Rugby laws of the game and safe practices. Laws and law amendments are fundamental to sports development and have been introduced for various reasons.

The same thinking and processes involve another area of concern – the high tackle.

The study of referee sanctioning in the 2018 Super Rugby competition found that 91% of the ruck cleanouts were legal and 9% illegal, according to the 2018 WR Laws of the Game.

Of the illegal ruck cleanouts, 93% – 1953; were not sanctioned by the referees, and 1087 or 57% were deemed dangerous. The attacking team were often not sanctioned for illegal ruck cleanouts.

 The first cleaner for both the attacking and defending teams contributed most of the illegal ruck cleanouts that the referees did not sanction. The majority of illicit dangerous ruck cleanouts not sanctioned by the referees were ‘shoulder charge’, ‘neck roll’, and ‘contact above the shoulder.’

Studies have revealed that there has been a spate of non-sanctioning of high tackles. As a result, the number of high tackles decreased with greater vigilance emphasised by World Rugby, which focused on applying the high tackle framework.

At the same time, it is critical that referees consistently enforce all laws to enhance injury prevention efforts. Further, studies should investigate why players do not adhere to the requirements of a safe tackle. The need cannot solely be the referee. Still, the school coaches and rugby authorities must be more involved to enforce discipline in the tackle.

Considering the repercussions, implementing the laws for dangerous play becomes essential as some schools are having problems because of injuries. Not a result of hazardous play, but fatigue and inability to hold the better, bigger side. The increased spate of injuries and possible pull-out concerns Division 1 Segment A and B teams from Kandy.

By Vimal Perera