21 Nov

Say No To Yellow
by Paul Waite
21 Nov 2005

It’s time the IRB had a good hard look at the whole idea of the sin-bin, and what it is doing to our game. The body which runs the game recently made a decision which is absolutely right for rugby, by awarding New Zealand the 2011 Rugby World Cup. It has shown it values the things that the game stands for, and did not ‘sell out’, as everyone widely expected.

So let’s look back at some other basic tenets of our game and consider the sin-bin in the light of these. In days of yore rugby was a very simple game, where two teams were assembled, and people watched the game to see which of the teams would prove to be the best.

There is a wonderful clarity about those days. There were no subsitututes, virtually nothing in the way of policing of foul play, very little in the way of rules, except for what constituted a score, and certainly nothing resembling a ‘sin-bin’.

Two teams fronted up, and the strongest prevailed, end of story.

Moving forward in time the game became more structured, with rules being invented to control modes of play, but there were still no substitutes. Two teams took the field with 15 players, and the strongest prevailed. If anyone got injured, then they obviously weren’t strong or canny enough, and bad luck – all part of the game.

Stepping into the time machine again we zip forward, and find that substitutes are allowed – for injuries validated by a doctor. We still have reasonable clarity of the teams and the outcome, since only badly injured players were replaced.

Nearer to today, professionalism brought a huge decrease in the aforementioned clarity. It muddied the waters considerably by increasing the number of subsitututes, and allowing them to be brought on at any time. Moreover, the ‘blood replacement’ laws allowed players to temporarily leave, be patched up and go back on. All very confusing for the spectator as compared with yesteryear.

But this way of playing the game has indeed settled over the past 10 years or so, and has largely been a success in the modern game with the very high workloads and therefore fitness required of the players. Usually we do see a pretty clear result with XV versus XV (with a few late replacements, or the odd injury-related replacement) in the mixture.

The sin-bin is the joker in this pack of cards, and has the capacity to totally ruin a fine, tight test match as a spectacle within minutes.

The intent of the yellow card is to allow the referee the option of punishing a set of fouls which are viewed as ‘spoiling’ the game, and which have not ceased due to other remedies, such as verbal warnings, free-kicks and/or penalties. The usual format is that a team infringes, and attracts a penalty or two. Then they infringe in the same way again, and are given a verbal warning along with the penalty against them, that the yellow card is next if they repeat the offence. If the offence is repeated, then the player committing it is sent from the field for 10 minutes.

This escalation is all very well in theory, but in practice it has an effect which, in my view, is so detrimental to the overall game that it is worse than not having it.

In other words, to exemplify to the extreme, it’s a bit like trying to cure a child of a bad habit by shooting it in the head. Sure enough they won’t ever do that bad thing again but…

The result of sending a player from the field for 10 minutes, is to totally destroy what in my view is one of the basic tenets of rugby – that the result should be decided by XV against XV to see which is the best.

The yellow card (sin-bin) should be removed from the game in my opinion, and replaced by a panel or panels set up by the IRB to review test matches for cycnical or professional fouls and the like, in a consistent manner, and mete out punishments to help remove these from the game in the way that yellow cards are failing to do.

Aside from the basic violation of a cornerstone of rugby the yellow card system has another basic flaw. Every single referee has a different set of criteria for its use, and therefore this devastating punishment is never going to be used consistently, as exemplified by the hair-trigger yellow carding performance of Alan Lewis in the England vs New Zealand test last weekend.

I call on the IRB to at the very least review the yellow card and its awful effect on what should be the very best spectacle rugby can offer – the tightly fought test match between the top rugby nations of the World.

Hopefully some sense and canny analysis can prevail here as it did with their wonderful decision to award New Zealand the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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