The All Blacks have played five tests so far this season, and we have seen four cards (1 red, three yellow). I have thought for years, that sin-binnings and sendings-off were bad for the game. Since all four of the cards in the All Black tests this year have gone in New Zealand’s favour, I can vent and not be accused of sour grapes.
The simple fact is that 15 on 14 rugby is not a proper contest in games involving the top teams; even 10 minutes can be enough to settle a game and make the remaining 70 minutes irrelevant. The problem is not with the referees; Roussouw’s yellow in the weekend was harsh, but the remaining three this year were clear cut given the laws as currently written. The problem is with the laws themselves. There needs to be a way of dealing with foul play and deliberate infringement that doesn’t require turning games into a farce. It would take only a couple of minor tweaks of the laws to do this.
First, players guilty of clear foul play should be penalised and sent off, but a replacement should be allowed. If necessary, the subsequent penalties imposed at a judicial hearing can be increased if that is needed to create the appropriate disincentives.
To deal with professional fouls, the on-field costs of infringements need to be increased. It is probably no coincidence that the extent of professional fouls has increased over time as the value of a try has increased (from 3 to 4 to 5 points since 1972) relative to that of a penalty. The lawmakers will not want to change the balance back, as they want to encourage teams to be constructive in their use of possession. So we need a different way of increasing the cost to a team of deliberate infringement.
My suggestion is that when a team is awarded a penalty, the clock should stop and stay stopped if the team takes a shot at goal. In that case, play should be restarted with a scrum at the point of infringement, whether or not the kick at goal is successful. That is, if a team is infringes when the opposition is attacking close to the goal line, the cost is the likelihood of allowing a kick for three points, but with no offsetting benefit of regaining possession and field position with a kick-off from halfway, and no opportunity to use the infringement to run time off the clock when holding on to a narrow (but more than 3-point) lead. In the event of a penalty try, teams would have the option of taking the kick at goal and ensuing scrum, or the certain 5 points and centre-field conversion.
I would expect that these rule changes would result in both less infringement, and more games being decided by tries rather than penalties. But on this blog, of course, the question is, Would there be any offsetting behaviour that produced undesirable consequences? Comments welcome.