Anyone who has ever watched cricket umpires decide whether a catch has been taken close to the ground or not will be well aware of the issues a two-dimensional picture poses when dealing with a three-dimensional event.
You would be hard placed to find a cricket commentary team united in their view whenever this happens.
What they, the commentators, do tend to fall back on is ‘feel’, do you think the player in that situation would or could have got their fingers under the ball and, of course, do we trust them to then appeal accordingly.
It is this feel for the situation which we do not appear to be running with in rugby.
With the recently overturned Marika Koriobete red card, referee Ben O’Keefe is right there. He has seen hundreds of illegal tackles over his career and his first instinct is that the tackle is fine and he signals for a knock-on.
Then that nasty little voice in the ear pipes up and we are now reduced to a two dimensional frame by frame review of an event that has happened at real speed.
This is the bit that is really bugging me; the search then begins for the shot that confirms the TMO has been correct in intervening.
Using the Koriobete example again, we got probably three to four different shots of the tackle, but only one that looked like it had hit the head. No matter that the tackle’s first impact was lower, the red card shot is frozen after the tackle has slid up and contact with the head/neck is made.
If there is any doubt, then surely that must go to the tackler – but the search is already for a conviction.
Once a referee panel has got a shot of head contact, no matter how it came about, they are only going to reach a single conclusion and, because of the World Rugby focus, they only have one outcome available to them.
But not all high tackles are created equal. We can compare the Koriobete example to, say, Malakai Fekitoa’s high shot a few years ago in Dublin where he was never going to do anything other than take the bloke’s head off.
Such were the times, he copped a yellow and returned to the game later.
So, if we have two types of head contact, the incidental contact versus the reckless tackle which is only ever going to have a dangerous outcome, why do we only have one equal punishment for both?
Does this not appear to be the perfect argument for a red card with a 20-minute timer while still retaining the red card sanction in that your side is reduced to 14 for the duration, and the player cops a suspension.
Surely it is easier to decide between these two types of sanction outcomes than it is to decide if an incidental contact is worth the ultimate sanction.
This is where we need to trust the feel of the referees for which sanction path they go down, deciding on a deliberate reckless action of a player versus a rugby incident would be by the far easiest part of the process.
No system is going to be perfect and mistakes are still going to be made, but by having both the 20-minute and send off options open to them, then surely the volatility in decision making reduces.
Seems to me that in deciding whether there is a 20-minute red card in the game or not, World Rugby are asking the wrong question – let us have both available so the punishment can fit the crime.