Whilst reading comments related to the match on Saturday at Eden Park, I found a comment whereby a New Zealand supporter compared the number of cards each nation have received since 2000.
It is something I have often wondered about, and having been told that these statistics are available on ESPN Scrum, I decided to have a look for myself.
Here are the results of the nine nations who take part in the Six Nations and Rugby Championship.
Statistics since 1st January 2000:
South Africa – 79 yellow cards – 4 red cards – 2.1 matches per yellow card
Argentina – 58 yellow cards – 0 red cards – 2.2 matches per yellow card
Wales – 55 yellow cards – 1 red card – 3 matches per yellow card
Australia – 52 yellow cards – 1 red card – 3.2 matches per yellow card
England – 46 yellow cards – 2 red cards – 3.4 matches per yellow card
New Zealand – 48 yellow cards – 0 red cards – 3.5 matches per yellow card
Scotland – 40 yellow cards – 2 red cards – 3.6 matches per yellow card
Ireland – 34 yellow cards – 1 red cards – 4.5 matches per yellow card
France – 27 yellow cards – 0 red cards – 6 matches per yellow card
Now granted, yellow cards and red cards are issued for a variety of reasons, most commonly for repeated infringements and foul/dangerous play.
Now, there is no need to start any conspiracy theories in regards to this; however I want to refer to a conversation a South African referee had on Super Sport sometime last year, when asked about the perceptions of referees when facing specific teams.
Because I cannot remember who the referee was, I do not want to hazard a guess.
The story went like this – his debut international match involved Argentina, and he was fore warned by his refereeing colleagues of the manner in which Argentina in specific operated at the breakdown, and he should concentrate on their behaviour in the contact areas.
His explanation was that no referee goes into a match with a bias, and to suggest that any referee is intent on cheating or favouring a team is a ridiculous idea. However he did suggest that they are human, and perceptions of how teams play are on their minds.
Now to that end, when considering the above statistics, it is clear that referees have a perception in regards to South Africa and Argentina they don’t have with other teams.
Where this theory does fall flat though is the French are not known for their subtlety at the contact area, yet they manage the best match per card ratio of these nine teams.
However, having said that, consider these statistics when it comes to the Pacific Island teams.
Tonga – 52 yellow cards – 4 red cards – 1.6 matches per yellow card
Fiji – 47 yellow cards – 4 red cards – 2 matches per yellow card
Samoa – 35 yellow cards – 5 red cards – 2.5 matches per yellow card
Now, the Pacific Island teams are filled with big strong athletic physical specimens who play rugby for fun, they ask no quarter and give no quarter. Would it be fair to assume that they are seen as too hard, or too physical?
Certainly when you add South Africa to this list, does that make a stronger case for physicality by teams being a negative?
Then there are teams to be perceived to play negative rugby – a good number of comments have surfaced over the last year with regards to Argentina since having joined the Rugby Championship, and when I consider what the South African referee has said about his perception in regards to Argentina, could it carry some truth?
Once again France dispels or negates the theory in regards to physicality.
It is difficult to ascertain the statistics for each country as to why each team have received yellow cards; this could help to dispel or confirm whether there is a common denominator towards physicality/aggression/foul play or simply repeated offences.
Duane Vermeulen was interviewed last night on Boots and All and asked how the team felt when Bismarck was sent off the field. He avoided the question by simply saying that the Springboks train for such an eventuality.
Do all teams do this? Is the sin bin and red card such a focus for teams that they literally have training sessions just to deal with the situation of being a man down?
The question begs, what do coaches do to address these statistics?
In fact, do they analyse these statistics at all?
Of the top teams in world rugby, South Africa has a significantly poorer match per yellow card statistic than the other nations. Surely this is something they need to address, be it to change the perception of referees (if that is a validity); certainly they need to look into the reasons why they are statistically worse off, and ultimately they need to put a system and process in place to eliminate this.
The SARU obviously has work to do; the fact that they train specifically for situations with 14 players on the field is a scary thought.
The IRB, on the other hand, need to find a solution to the inconsistencies, or errors made in judgement which causes contests to whittle out into little more than a training run to the team with the one man advantage.
Consideration has to be given in regards to repeated infringing, in other words, how consistency can be achieved when a team infringes continually in their red zone. The fact is, repeated infringing is as bad for the game as professional fouls.
Foul play and dangerous play is easy to monitor, in the same manner as a try being reviewed by a TMO; the same method or process should be used before awarding a yellow or red card, as both can change the course of a result as much as a try scored.
Coaches, players and referees are equally responsible to ensure a fair game and a fair result.
Then of course, simplifying laws has been the answer for some time now.