The curious case of Wycliff Palu’s yellow card
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Late in the first half of the absorbing drawn Test between Ireland and Australia, Wycliff Palu, the monster Wallaby number 8, was given a yellow card by the South African referee Jonathan Kaplan for allegedly making a shoulder charge on Rob Kearney, Ireland’s fullback.
I use the word ‘allegedly’ because it was Kearney who made the shoulder charge on Palu while he was carrying the ball upfield.
Later in the Test, Kearney repeated the infringement with a shoulder charge on Rocky Elsom as the Wallaby captain dived across the line to score a try.
Kaplan is regarded as one the top referees in international rugby.
He showed no rugby nous or understanding, though, with both decisions he made: first, when he gave a yellow card to Palu and, second, when he did not give a yellow card to Kearney.
In the Palu incident, Kearney fielded the ball outside his 22. He decided to run the ball back rather than put in a towering kick.
Palu closed in on him.
Kearney raced towards Palu, turned his shoulder and smashed into Palu shoulder first (a shoulder charge in other words). Kearney was bumped to the ground and rolled forward, uninjured, with the ball firmly in his grasp.
Palu met the shoulder charge with his body square to the tackler.
He did NOT turn side on in preparation for a shoulder charge. Kearney’s sudden explosion of speed caught him slightly unprepared. Kearney smashed into Palu’s upper body at about the same time as the tackler was trying to get his arms around the runner.
Kaplan was behind Palu when the incident happened.
He saw Kearney bounce off Palu and presumed – incorrectly as it happened – that it was Palu who had made the shoulder charge.
With the Elsom incident, it was obvious that Kearney had used his shoulder to charge the Wallaby into touch. This should have been identified by the assistant referee, who was on the spot and the referee, who had a good view of the incident.
Kearney should have been given a yellow card, which probably would have ended Ireland’s fight-back. And the Wallabies should have been awarded a penalty kick on the halfway mark after the conversion.
Given the Daniel Carter precedent, too, Kearney should have been put out for a week by an IRB judicial review committee to make up for the failure of the match referees to get the decision on the infringement right.
I have argued for some time now that too many yellow cards are wrongly handed out.
There should be a video replay before a card is handed out. The impact on the game of a yellow card warrants this type of accuracy.
As it happened, Ireland did not score with Palu off the field. But the Wallabies were well on top at the time, and with Palu breaking through the middle, they may well put more points on the board.
The irony about the curious case of Wycliff Palu’s yellow card is that there were a number of slow-motion replays of Kearney’s shoulder charge on Elsom while the video referee was working out if a try was scored or not.
Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.