At approximately 1200hrs (Central African Time) on Sunday 16 October 2011, a huge cheer went around at Auckland’s Eden Park stadium when the final whistle was blown and the New Zealand All Blacks completed a deserved 20-6 victory over their neighbours from Australia in the semi finals of the Rugby World Cup. What probably wasn’t captured by the broadcast was the even bigger cheer in South Africa, London, Perth (and numerous other locations around the world where South Africans are living) that the cheating, thieving Australians had finally got their just deserts and were eliminated from the tournament. Justice had been done (accomplished in part by the excellent refereeing of Craig Joubert – a South African of course) and there were few South Africans feeling sorry for the Wallabies.
In the other semi final between France and Wales played the day before, justice again played a significant role in the outcome of the game as the French team squeaked a 9-8 result despite being largely matched and outplayed by 14 Welsh men for approximately 60 minutes, following the straight red card shown to their captain Sam Warburton. For those that did not watch the game, Warburton was issued with a red card for lifting French player Vincent Clerc and then either losing his grip or dropping him which caused Clerc to land on his neck and/or upper body.
In this instance the rugby laws are very clear. If you pick a player up and turn him, with your elbows pointing upwards, you have to be very careful about how you bring your opponent down to earth. Driving him head-first into the ground with your shoulder is outlawed, and correctly so, as this can lead to life and career ending injuries. Lifting a player in the tackle and then dropping him is equally bad as it can result in a similar outcome.
A great blog article by RugbyLaw includes the following excerpt and explanations of the laws of the game of rugby. Law 10 (4) (j) of rugby’s laws states that:
“Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player’s feet are still off the ground such that the player’s head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play.”
Furthermore, it also states that:
“The lifted player is dropped to the ground from a height with no regard to the player’s safety. A red card should be issued for this type of tackle.”
Naturally there has been a great deal of commentary surrounding the decision by referee Alain Rolland to issue the red card. A number of people sympathise with Rolland’s black-and-white interpretation of the rules and agree with the red card decision. On the other hand, there are those who claim that Rolland had a choice and should have used his common sense and interpreted the rules of the game and applied them to this particular incident as Warburton obviously did not intend to drop Clerc. Some have called Warburton the victim of “rigid justice or rough justice”
This is where the problems start when refereeing decisions are analysed to death in a post game context, with the aid of several slow motion replays and the benefit of hindsight. In my opinion, Rolland interpreted the black-and-white rules correctly as they were meant to be, regardless of the fact that it was a crucial semi final game. As soon as referees start to apply their own judgement to specific cases, there will be an even bigger outcry around a lack of consistency in interpretation of the rules (yes, Bryce Lawrence that’s specifically for you).
Justice is an interesting concept. One definition of it according to thefreedictionary.com is “the upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honour, standards or law”.
From a South African rugby watching perspective, poetic justice tasted extremely sweet as the All Blacks received “reward in accordance with honour”. However, from the Welsh point of view it was not “fair treatment in accordance with standards or law”.