Ignore the blather: Rolland was right

Saturday was a very unsatisfactory day for the Rugby World Cup. A useless French team got through to a final they scarcely deserve, and a far superior Welsh team went out.  Much has been written about the sending off of their superb captain, Sam Warburton for a spear tackle in the 17th minute.  And much of it has been worthy of Kevin the Teenager: ‘It’s soooo unfaaaaaaaaaaaaair!!!!’.

Stepehen Jones said there was no malice in the tackle, and Warburton’s dropping of Clerc was an act of pulling out of the tackle.  Barnesy (in a shameful piece of journalism, it must be said) accused Rolland of an ‘arrogant misuse of power’, described him as half-French and pointed to conspiracy theories to secure the All Blacks the Cup.  Shaun Edwards called for a change to the rules, where a player can be placed on report, as in League (indeed, Edwards said the tackle was fine for a Leaguer), and intimated that Warburton shouldn’t have been sent off becaue he’s a jolly good fellow.

The fact is that Warburton’s tackle satisfied the IRB definition of a spear/tip tackle, and referees have been instructed to penalise a spear tackle with a red card.  The arguments against the sending off just don’t hold water:

1. There was no malice in the tackle and Warburton didn’t drive Clerc into the ground – irrelevant.  The IRB rule cites driving or dropping the player as a spear tackle

2. Warburton is not a dirty player – irrelevant again.  This invites double standards; that dirty Argentinians and Samoans are to be reffed one way and upstanding Anglo-Saxon heroes another. Disciplinary records are for judging panels to deal with, not referees.

3. The sending off ruined a semi-final – true, but not the referee’s fault.  The law is there to protect player safety, which has to be more important than entertainment for those on the couch.  It seems some have lost sight of why the ruling and sanction are recommended in the first place.  The reason the tackle is outlawed is because it is so dangerous.  It was Warburton, not Rolland who ruined the match, harsh though that may sound

4. A yellow and citing would have been fair – citings only occur for incidents which merit a red card.  So if you believe a citing would be fair, then you have to accept a red card is deserved

5. Rolland should have consulted a touch judge – this is effectively asking for him to bottle the decision.  He had a crystal clear view of the incident and acted decisively and correctly. Ironically, some of the same people castigated the touch judge in the Second Lions Test in 2009 for saying that Burger’s ocular exploration of Luke Fitzgerald was worthy of “at least a yellow card” instead of red

6. Other spear tackles in the tournament have been met with a yellow card – true, but those are the erroneous decisions, not this one.  Take issue with the referees in those games if you want.

7. Rolland is half-French –  a cheap shot from the likes of Stuart Barnes, who should know better. Plus he’s 0% French, he’s Irish – his father is French

8. Vincent Clerc was unhurt – true, but not the point – do we really want to grade an offence based on the severity of the injury caused?

Some commentators have even gone so far as to say the red card should be removed altogether with punishments doled out after matches rather than during.  This is nonsense – the team sinned against has to benefit from the opposing side’s misdeeds.  You really do get the imression the outcry is because a ‘good guy’ got sent off, and if it was a dirty Frenchman who had commited the offence, the volume of shrieking would be a lot lower.

And for those insisting that the sending off cost Wales the game: if the Welsh side could kick properly they would have won comfortably, sending off or otherwise. Also note that post red card, Rolland gave zero scrum penalties to France despite Jean-Baptiste Poux repeatedly tearing Paul James a new one.

And we haven’t even talked about the worst refereeing decision in the game – the penalty that Leigh Halfpenny narrowly missed – this call may have cost Rolland the final, but the red card certainly didn’t, since it was utterly correct.



  1. Rolland was right to penalise Warburton but the suggested penalty according to the laws of rugby as published by the IRB is a penalty kick. Even a yellow card would have been harsh if the laws were being adhered to strictly.

  2. Hi Anon – the IRB diktat to referees was that anything satisfying the criteria of a spear or tip tackle was to be sanctioned with a red card.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spear_tackle

  3. Palla that is an excellent piece, agree with every word. I reckon you missed one point though. There have been suggestions that Clerc/the French "made a meal of it" and this contributed to the sending off, implying that there was simulation going on. That is pretty f*****g out of order. The French players were dead right to get their backs up (pun intended) about it. As a matter of fact I think the quick issuing of the red card was a very good call as it immediately took the sting out of a volatile situation. Generally it is good practice to consult the touch judges, but Rolland saw it, knew what had to be done and did it. There is a touch of anti-French, Johnny Foreigner bashing going on in the English speaking rugby world. Stuey Barnes is a bit of a hero of mine (I expect you won't miss me and hit the wall about that one!). Nonetheless if what you say is true, he has let himself down badly in my eyes. It must be said – George Hook played a blinder though.I cheered for Wales in this match and admire the rugby they play(ed). They absolutely deserved to win. The French absolutely deserved to lose (although they were clever enough not to give any opportunity to Rolland to send one of them off and balance it up). Shaun Edwards was bang on when he said you'd want your son to be part of a team like that, but I am disappointed they haven't manned up on this one. Although he is a great player and probably fella and it was a devestating, emotional defeat….Wales should accept that their captain made a mistake, rather than pointing the finger at the referee or the French reaction. It's not like it was handball (twice…..that's a foul in volleyball for Chrissake*) or indeed an incorrectly taken lineout. Ach I need to let these things go too.My last point (and I hate to play the health and safety card) is this. There are rare instances of serious disability or worse in rugby. Some people focus on them being rare and prefer to go down the "defend keeping the physicality in the game" argument. They are entitled to their opinion and I love the genuine and safe physicality of rugby myself. But there are other issues such as dementia pugilistica and one has to look at recent,high profile motor neuron disease cases and wonder. That is why the rules have been drawn up the way they have. Suggestions to relax the rules are irresponsible. On this issue I commend the rule makers (for once), but particularly praise Alain Rolland for implementing them in one of the highest pressured and most easily cop-outable situations imaginable. It was probably the best bit of refereeing I have seen.*stole that one from a texter to today fm back in the days after Thierry. Now THAT was unfair.

  4. Cheers Paddy – its COMPLETE Johnny Foreigner bashing – imagine Rolland was Argentinian!Its all very disappointing, I don't like seeing teams react in such a shrill fashion – Gatty and St Shaun should have more class – bottle the disappointment and retain the emotional energy for motivation, don't whinge on about it.And I don't want to come across all think-of-the-children, but young lads need to learn spear tackling is always unacceptable no matter what.

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