The orange card has been given the green light by the world’s most-capped Test referee – provided the man in the middle has the final word.
Nigel Owens is recommending that World Rugby’s proposed new sanction should carry an automatic 20-minute ban irrespective of any later disciplinary action from the citing commissioner.
The renowned Welshman, marooned two internationals short of a century as the sport waits for a way out of lockdown, welcomes the governing body’s initiative but not their promotion of it to help referees unable to make up their minds.
World Rugby base their experimental orange card for use in respect of “possible red-card tackle offences which would apply where a TMO/citing commissioner/Hawkeye review is available”.
World Rugby say: “When the referee and their match officials are unsure of the sanction for a high-tackle offence, the offending player would be removed from play while a review takes place.
“If it is deemed a red card offence, the player does not return. If it is a yellow card or a penalty only, the player returns after 15 minutes. So even if it’s only a penalty the offending team would have been reduced to 14 players for a 15-minute period.’’
Owens sees the orange card not as a matter for touchline review but as a suitable punishment for a crime adjudged to have been short of red but beyond yellow. In his view, the 20-minute exclusion would be automatic.
“The orange card has its merits but it has to be thought through,’’ Owens tells The Rugby Paper. “I don’t like the wording about the referee not being sure. It’s good that World Rugby are looking at a few alternative things and it could work effectively as long as it’s applied properly.
“We have to be sure as referees that it is not used as an easy way out of giving a red card. There should never be a get-out clause for such an offence. I am confident that top international referees would not use it as an opt-out.
“We have to make decisions which are hard to call. Every so often you have to deal with an incident which falls smack in the middle between a red card and a yellow one.
“As the referee, I would not give an orange card because I’m not sure whether its red or yellow but because I am sure the offence falls in between. When we discuss those types of incidents as referees we invariably come to the same conclusion: ‘That’s an orange card.’
‘’Because the offence requires more than a yellow but falls short of a red, I’d like to see the orange card mean longer in the bin. It needs to have a deterrent effect and I’d say you’re off for 20 minutes.
‘’That’s a big chunk of the game. Players and coaches would be saying: ‘Don’t run the risk.’ Digging in with 14 men for ten minutes is one thing. Digging in with the same disadvantage for twice as long is an entirely different matter.
‘’Personally, I would not want someone else to make a judgement on my behalf. If the citing commissioner or whoever looks at it and tells me: ‘Nigel, I think this should be a red card’ then I’d want to see the footage and make my decision accordingly.
‘’I would certainly not want be saying to myself: ‘Oh well, I’ll give an orange card and let someone else deal with it.’ You have been appointed to referee a match because you are deemed capable of making those decisions.
‘’The referee needs to be part of that process. Sometimes, of course, you get it wrong but it has to come back to the referee to make that final decision. Even if takes 30 or 40 seconds longer, you make it as a team of four (referee, two assistants, TMO). The referee is refereeing the game, not the citing commissioner or anyone else.’’
Following last week’s report in The Rugby Paper confirming that the Six Nations will start at least one month later as part of the global season, WRU chairman Gareth Davies told BBC: ‘’It’s not a big issue, especially if it enables harmony and brings people together.’’