The curious case of Wycliff Palu’s yellow card

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    Australia's Ben Alexander, front, grapples with Wycliff Palu during a team training session in London, Tuesday Nov. 3, 2009. Australia will face England for an international rugby union test match at Twickenham Saturday Nov. 7, 2009. AP Photo/Tom Hevezi

    Australia's Ben Alexander, front, grapples with Wycliff Palu during a team training session in London, Tuesday Nov. 3, 2009. Australia will face England for an international rugby union test match at Twickenham Saturday Nov. 7, 2009. AP Photo/Tom Hevezi

    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
    Spiro Zavos

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (219)

    • November 18th 2009 @ 6:00am
      JER said | November 18th 2009 @ 6:00am | ! Report

      I think that the simple fact is that the Wallabies did a marvelous job to obtain a draw with the referee that that was imposed upon them.

    • November 18th 2009 @ 6:15am
      Knives Out said | November 18th 2009 @ 6:15am | ! Report

      Is it just me or is the curious case of Wycliff Palu’s yellow card simply a smokescreen for the curious case of why Australia don’t seem to be improving under Robbie Deans?

      • November 18th 2009 @ 7:45am
        fox said | November 18th 2009 @ 7:45am | ! Report

        The two are unrelated. Except in your mind.

        • November 18th 2009 @ 7:49am
          Knives Out said | November 18th 2009 @ 7:49am | ! Report

          Of course. I’m sure Mr Zavos decided to ignore the case to write an article about how Australian rugby has only shown marginal improvement (and only in the forwards) since the tenure of Robbie Deans began because the yellow carding of Palu is so profundly interesting and significant to the game at large. Two matches in, 40 minutes of solid rugby, one win against England ‘C’ and kick and drive rugby against Ireland and Mr Palu is the subject of debate this week. How very coincidental. Go Wallabies!

          • November 18th 2009 @ 7:58am
            fox said | November 18th 2009 @ 7:58am | ! Report

            It amazes me that you keep coming back to this site, which commercially benefits someone you actually cearly despise. No matter, we are all aware of your spiteful interest in the Wallabies. The fact of the matter is that there has been plenty of improvement that is yet to translate into consistent success. I can hear the arguments coming at me already, so please do spare me the rhetoric. But I do thank you for putting the boot in. It’s nice to know you care.

            • November 18th 2009 @ 8:05am
              Knives Out said | November 18th 2009 @ 8:05am | ! Report

              I’m going to ignore your childish and mildly offensive tone and attitude and suggest one thing: get a sense of humour asap. Perhaps you should root out all the people who play out their anti-English/anti-SA agenda on this site if fair play is the aim of your game. I doubt it, however, as we see with your laughable anti-Irish drivel. Nice to know you care, eh.

              I have no spiteful interest in the Wallabies simply because I have no real interest in them beyond occasionally watching them play. Were I to have a spiteful interest then I would be knocking around on countless threads ‘putting the boot in’ – and not sharing the occasional spot of humour with some witty and likeable Australian Roarers – pointing out that there has not been ‘polenty’ of improvement and that the only improvement has been in the scrum. The lineout, ability to contest rucks, back play, tactical nous and team cohesion has remained remarkably static or regressed at a real rate of knots. Obviously you disagree, but then Al Capone’s guns don’t lie, and neither do countless crapulent performances in a row. Is that spiteful enough for you?

              • November 18th 2009 @ 10:02am
                fox said | November 18th 2009 @ 10:02am | ! Report

                Well ignored.

              • November 18th 2009 @ 11:58am
                MarkR said | November 18th 2009 @ 11:58am | ! Report

                KO – bear in mind the Oz supporters I talk to (all two of them in Melbourne) are more than happy with one win & ione draw so far given they only have Scotland & Wales left.

              • November 18th 2009 @ 2:16pm
                AC said | November 18th 2009 @ 2:16pm | ! Report

                So you reckon Ireland’s rucking has gone backwards then, if Australia’s hasn’t gone forward? Ireland were completely out-played at the ruck.

                The lineout has been a total embarrassment for a while. Our lifters must be weak as p1ss or is it just crap throwers… At least they were straight though!

              • November 18th 2009 @ 8:38pm
                mick h said | November 18th 2009 @ 8:38pm | ! Report

                I thought it was “Al Capone’s guns don’t argue” a ripper of a song. If you get a chance to listen to it it should chill everyone out here a little.

          • Roar Guru

            November 18th 2009 @ 9:06am
            Hoy said | November 18th 2009 @ 9:06am | ! Report

            I too am happy to ignore the Wallabies supposed non-improval over this bad decision which could one day affect the outcome of a game.

            It was a legit, massive tackle, that should the Wallabies should have been rewarded for as Kearney was holding onto the ball on the deck. Instead, Palu was sent off.

            That fact concerns me more than the wallabies drawing with the six nations champs. I can seen improvements in the team. These improvements aren’t translating into wins, YET. I would like to give the team the benefit of the doubt and suggest that in time they will translate to wins.

      • November 18th 2009 @ 8:13am
        Matt0931 said | November 18th 2009 @ 8:13am | ! Report

        KO, why is it that the wallabies are ‘not improving’ but are still way better than the England team?

        Why are they still ranked 3rd in the IRB rankings if they are no good as your threads so commonly illustrate?

        How can they manage such a high ranking but have one of the youngest average ages of the top 10 rugby nations?

        Maybe it’s time for you to concentrate some of your energy on your countries poor excuse of a rugby team rather than constantly spewing irrelevant venom in the direction of a rugby team that is clearly in a building phase and working toward a distant goal.

        • November 18th 2009 @ 8:24am
          Knives Out said | November 18th 2009 @ 8:24am | ! Report

          The Grand Slam is over and there’s an apparent air of spite and bitterness on this thread. Which is sad.

          What does the Wallabies not improving have to do with the England rugby team? The current state of Australian rugby has nothing to do with the England rugby team. Essentially, what you are saying is this: “Yes, we’ve been pretty poor for nearly two years now, but hey England is even worse so have some of that.” What an unfortunate mentality. However, I have no doubts that had England’s missing army been fit that they would have beaten Australia. Come the 72nd minute Australia were two points ahead of an England team with a new front row, new back row, new haf-back pairing, new midfield pairing and new back three yet Australia had played roughly 10 tests together with England having played none. Does that worry me? No. Does it worry me that an Australian side with nearly 40 caps per man struggled to beat an England team with 24 injured players and only 20 caps per man? Not in the slightest. Perhaps you should concentrate on your own poor excuse of a rugby team rather than constantly spewing irrelevant venom in the direction of a rugby team that is clearly in a building phase and working towards a distant goal.

          ‘How can they manage such a high ranking but have one of the youngest average ages of the top 10 rugby nations?’

          Two weeks ago at Twickenham England had 10 players aged 24 or younger in their matchday 22 and the Australians had 9. Regardless, what does age have anything to do with anything? Australia manages such a high ranking because it has a better record than the teams below it. You forget that this sudden influx of youth has only happened over the past few months. It’s hardly as if Deans has been a trendsetter and Australia has been playing a team of 18 year olds week in week out for ten years. In any case it seems abundantly clear that Ireland and France, and perhaps Wales, are better than Australia, which again leaves me to consider what you think age has to do with anything? It surely hasn’t claimed any success yet. Unless of course you consider that nice big wooden spoon a claim to fame?

          ‘Maybe it’s time for you to concentrate some of your energy on your countries poor excuse of a rugby team rather than constantly spewing irrelevant venom in the direction of a rugby team that is clearly in a building phase and working toward a distant goal.’

          This is offensive drivel and it reflects very poorly on you. Perhaps you can find and highlight where I have spewed this irrelevant venom. I can only see a couple of petulant juveniles taking offence at nothing in particular. As it happens I have commented countless times on England so know your history and avoid being misinformed. An aimless rant is never going to be improved by lack of accuracy.

      • November 18th 2009 @ 9:25am
        Parisien said | November 18th 2009 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        In all fairness Knives Out, I don’t think Palu’s card or this thread is a smokescreen, its just another talking point, like after any match.
        If you want to see criticism of Australia, its backline, lineout, strategies and even their coach, there’s plenty of it on the main thread dedicated to the game, and most of it from Wallaby supporters. Even Spiro whose journalism I suspect you don’t like raised some valid criticisms on this blog. There has also been some praise about the positives.

        It may be too soon to raise the point of Deans straight after a disappointing draw that ended the Grand Slam hopes with all the subsequent mixed emotions as I think most Wallaby supporters are waiting for the november tour to finish first. Most Wallaby supporters are very disappointed so any comment that appears like gloating will be seized upon. We are all hoping to see improvement after a disappointing 3N. I don’t think it is an issue that anyone is avoiding and there have been lots of opinions expressed already especially during this last season. Incidentally, I think there has been some improvement and other areas that are still very worrying, but I await the next two games to be sure.

        Perhaps after the tour games you could write an article yourself on the Wallabies and what you feel to be their strengths and weaknesses, where they’ve improved and where they haven’t, and raise those questions you have about Dean’s coaching.

        Also and sincerely, what do you really think about England at the moment? Is it right for Johnson and his staff to be criticised so harshly in England when they still have a couple of games to complete? Are they improving or stagnating, or will you wait to see how the 6N goes before making any conclusions or even perhaps call for MJ’s head.

        • November 18th 2009 @ 9:28pm
          Knives Out said | November 18th 2009 @ 9:28pm | ! Report

          Mmm… very measured, Parisien. Unfortunately there’s been some ridiculous accusations brought about by one throwaway line (which contained no hint of gloating), which is peculiar given that I haven’t commented on any other Ireland v Australia threads.

          In all honesty I’ve seen very little criticism of Deans/Australia recently. I saw a lot during the 3N and after, but none recently apart from ‘We’re turning into a great young team’, which if I’m being honest astounds me. I think a lot of people are avoiding the topic, so we shall just have to agree to disagree. Not that I’m starting a ‘Deans is Crap’ campaign, I merely say this in response to previous comments aimed at me.

          Now call me cynical if you will, but given that rugby is a minority sport in Australia and Mr Zavos is allegedly one of Australia’s most notorious rugby union commentators it surprises me that he basically avoids any real discussion of one of the most important games in the history of Deans’ tenure to focus on what is essentially an irrelevance. Further, Mr Zavos does have a long history of aiming barbs at other nations and other players (SA, England.. NZ). Perhaps this is base tabloid intent or perhaps Mr Zavos really feels the discussion of Palu is more important than the second game of a Grand Slam tour? Either way, I don’t think I’m out of line in making the suggestion.

          What do I think of England? What I said prior to the tests: this series is damage limitation. Hopefully some players will shine and even if they don’t then you know who is not capable of playing test rugby (Deacon, Crane, Geraghty at 12, Banahan, Monye at 15). Dick Best gave a thoughtful appraisal of the situation the other day. I would have no qualms with John Wells or Mike Ford being replaced but certainly not Johnson. His selections (prior to the injury burst) have been consistent, aimed toward youth and apparently he is the first English coach of recent years to correspond regularly with the players and their clubs. You have some malcontents in the media moaning that England should win all three games because they will have been in camp for three-four weeks, which makes me wonder if that means Australia and NZ should lose because they have been in camp for over three months? Had all the injured players been fit then I would have demanded (as far as a fan can) that England beat Australia and Argentina comfortably. They’re not fit so Johnson has a free run as far as I’m concerned.

      • November 18th 2009 @ 12:11pm
        ohtani's jacket said | November 18th 2009 @ 12:11pm | ! Report

        Pretty much.

        What was that rub of the green nonsense from Deans? Actually, it’s pretty wiley when you think about it. Deans has made little to no progress all year but most Australians believe they never get a fair shake from the ref. Tap into that and you can deflect criticism from your results.

        I don’t think Spiro is capable of critising Deans at this point. It’ll never happen despite Deans making the same mistakes he made with the All Black backline.

    • Roar Guru

      November 18th 2009 @ 6:23am
      Poth Ale said | November 18th 2009 @ 6:23am | ! Report

      They are improving – they drew with the 6 Nations champions.

      And I bet they’ll beat Scotland next week as well.

      • November 18th 2009 @ 6:32am
        Knives Out said | November 18th 2009 @ 6:32am | ! Report

        Obviously… I mean, let’s be realistic now: ‘I think that the simple fact is that the Wallabies did a marvelous job to obtain a draw with the referee that that was imposed upon them.’

        • November 18th 2009 @ 7:14am
          CraigB said | November 18th 2009 @ 7:14am | ! Report

          ah KO – found something more fun than the realities of Pommy rugger then?

          • November 18th 2009 @ 7:35am
            Knives Out said | November 18th 2009 @ 7:35am | ! Report

            Yeah… the realities of Australian rugger. It’s a real hoot and full of some real jokers, and you know what a precious commodity humour is.

            • November 18th 2009 @ 11:45am
              CraigB said | November 18th 2009 @ 11:45am | ! Report

              dunno about the precious commodity of humour, its seems the English have in spades at the moment. That would explain the 2 80 miinute skits they’ve put on at Twickers the last couple of weeks. How long is the show set to run? Will it get promoted to the West End? I read they dropped Lawes from the squad to include 36 year old Shaw. The jokes just keep on coming.

              • November 18th 2009 @ 7:01pm
                Justin said | November 18th 2009 @ 7:01pm | ! Report

                Ah but Craig the game is so healthy in England 😉 Massive week in week out crowds at GP matches and so much youth coming through!

              • November 18th 2009 @ 8:47pm
                Knives Out said | November 18th 2009 @ 8:47pm | ! Report

                I think the show is set to run as long as basically half the first team absent. What your typical Aussie wit misses, Craig, is this: that the current England set up is basically England ‘B/C’, with new units in the front and back row, half-back, midfield and the back three. That sort of scenario might make you want to question the Wallaby performances, no?

                Shaw as in the world class lock who played one of the best games ever against SA? That Shaw? Of course he’s been included. He’s a fantastic player, the best 4 lock in the world, whose bulk will improve the scrum, whose ability to counter-maul will be a massive aid and whose dynamic rucking will galvanise the ruck contest. That Lawes isn’t playing test rugby speaks volumes for the English depth, as Justin alludes to. Keep plugging away, guys.

    • November 18th 2009 @ 6:32am
      Colin N said | November 18th 2009 @ 6:32am | ! Report

      Talking about poor refereeing decisions, what about the ‘hand of Johnson’ in the Saracens-South Africa game.

    • Roar Guru

      November 18th 2009 @ 7:02am
      Poth Ale said | November 18th 2009 @ 7:02am | ! Report

      There’s an even more curious case emerging from the Italy/NZ match last weekend and the farce of the last ten minutes.

      The curious case of Martin Castrogiovanni’s boring technique.

      Paddy O’Brien has publicly apologised to the All Blacks according to the New Zealand Herald. Apparently he called in specially into the NZ hotel in London today to let them know this, and to say that the Italian scrum was completely at fault, or more specifically Castro was for boring in.

      In an exemplary use of independent and unbiased language as the chief representative of international referees , he said: “They’re crying up here that it was a penalty try. It should have been a penalty first scrum to the All Blacks.”

      He went on to comment on the young AB prop who had suffered so badly in the match: “You’ve got a young guy trying to launch his test career and get things right and the referee is inaccurate. Then it’s our problem,” said O’Brien. “We’ve got to deal with the ref, which we will, just like Graham deals with a player who is not playing well.”

      Obviously, the All Blacks didn’t really know much about the whole incident. All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith said today the team was going about its front-row work “as usual” though he had noted the “publicity” around the scrummaging.

      I love that – he ‘noted the ‘publicity’ around the scrummaging.

      It comes as such a relief that Paddy and Graham are the best of buddies again, and that Paddy dealt with the matter so delicately, and even-handedly. And that he gave an exclusive interview to a NZ newspaper before meeting the AB management.

      It’s such a pity he couldn’t have been around to discuss the high profile accusations of similar boring in during the first Lions test.

      • November 18th 2009 @ 7:36am
        Knives Out said | November 18th 2009 @ 7:36am | ! Report

        Why didn’t this goon come out and apologise to the Lions after the 1st test?

        • November 18th 2009 @ 8:18am
          stuff happens said | November 18th 2009 @ 8:18am | ! Report

          I don’t remember much about refs but I do recall O’Brien as the ref in a France/ Fiji group match in the ’99RWC and doing everything possible to ensure France won.
          His treatment of Fiji, including a perfectly legitimate try that was disallowed, was appalling.

      • November 18th 2009 @ 8:00am
        Killerwhale said | November 18th 2009 @ 8:00am | ! Report

        Is he right or wrong, that is the most important thing not if he’s hurt anybodies feelings. The scrum was a mess for the entire game and Crockett certainly questioned his rulings and interpretations. Watch the footage, seems pretty clear cut and good on him for admitting that Stu was getting it all wrong. Killed the game as a spectacle which is the biggest issue.

        • November 18th 2009 @ 8:07am
          Knives Out said | November 18th 2009 @ 8:07am | ! Report

          This is a poor show of support for Dickinson (who I think is a real cowboy), but it is striking why O’Brien would only see fit to comment on this.

          • November 18th 2009 @ 10:12am
            mitzter said | November 18th 2009 @ 10:12am | ! Report

            KO Yes that’s what I think. If the refs were transparent about all their decisions i wouldn’t care but going on about the allblacks game is asking the question ‘is there favouritisim for nz in refereeing cirlcles?” – the answer is yes

            • November 18th 2009 @ 2:38pm
              katzilla said | November 18th 2009 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

              Can i also speculate that there is life on Mars – Yes
              Also allow me to speculate on the mating habits of the pterodactyl.

    • November 18th 2009 @ 7:21am
      Got im´ Gooone! said | November 18th 2009 @ 7:21am | ! Report

      Any person that thinks that Palu´s tackle deserved even a penalty is about as hardcore as un Ugg-boot! and should take up watching snooker or lawn bowls! However i don´t think we can say we would have won the match if he was not sent to the bin. I hope we see a bit more running this weekend.

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