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Fighting talk

Phil Clarke Posted 13th March 2013 view comments

What do you need to do in a game of rugby league to get sent off? Does a red card ruin a game?

Last weekend saw some referees dealing cards like a croupier in a casino. Two red and two yellow at the KC Stadium and a yellow (pulled out by mistake) followed by a red at the Widnes match. They've caused a lot of debate and so I thought I'd add my opinion.

Less of this please, says Phil Clarke

Less of this please, says Phil Clarke

I'd like to begin by talking about football. Manchester United had a player sent off last week in a Champions League game with Real Madrid and most of the football people I met said that it had ruined the game. Whether the referee's decision was right or wrong is irrelevant at this point, I'm not a believer that a team needs all of its players on the field to win or be competitive. Widnes' fight back against the Bulls, trailing by 16 points and having a man less for the whole of the second half, is one bit of proof in rugby league.

We know that tempers will boil over from time to time, but it's important that we try to avoid the 'all-in brawl' when most of the players join in the fighting that looks like a 1950's western bar fight. Thankfully this does not happen as often as it used to in previous eras.

Phil Clarke
Quotes of the week

The same goes for Great Britain's performance 10 years ago against Australia when they lost by just four points in the last few minutes after Adrian Morley was sent off in the first tackle of the match. From what I saw, Manchester United had chances in the latter stages of the game to score and progress to the next round. Having one player less didn't ruin the excitement, drama or competitive nature of the game and it's a myth put forward by the supporters and coaches of the losing team when they have a man sent off.

The incident in which Gareth Hock was dismissed also has a relevance to football. Do we want to see players swearing at an official? I know that rugby league has its problems as a sport, but abusing the officials isn't one of them yet.

I think that most people accept that if someone hits their thumb with a hammer there might be a shout or swear word in reaction to the pain, anger and disappointment. Therefore it's not surprising when a player makes a mistake or sees a try awarded which he doesn't agree with that there could be an initial reaction. We hope that most officials are wise enough to sensibly move away from the player and allow him to calm down. It's about managing the situation. But if a player approaches a player a second time, as I believe happened with Gareth Hock, then his behavior cannot be excused. We need to do everything that we can to maintain a respect for authority within the game.

Seeing red

So if swearing at an official gets you sent off, what do you think about two players 'trading punches' as it is often described? Brian Carney and I disagree on this point. I think that they must be sent off from the field with a red card if both have willingly engaged in a fist fight. But that then begs the question about the definition of 'trading punches'?

I think that we would all accept that two players swinging their arms at each other would fall into this category, and I have seen this happen in three games so far this season. On each occasion the ref has shown them the red card. So on the basis of consistency; I hope that similar offences are dealt with in the same manner this year. At the very least, the yellow card is a 'must'.

But what do we expect the player to do if an opponent starts to repeatedly punch him? Is it a form of self-defence to punch back and protect yourself?

This becomes a very difficult area for the referee to manage. Most players are in an aggressive state and it doesn't take much for the fuse to be lit. When does a skirmish become an incident that warrants a red card? It used to be said that retaliation is worse than the original offence, but I am not sure I agree with that. It is possible that a team could deliberately attack an opposing player with the intention of getting him sent off. If he fights back when attacked, he could be given a red card.

I know that I am supposed to have an 'expert opinion' on issues like this but I am more confused now than when I began to write this article!

It does appear that most of us accept that a third player running in to join an incident where two players are trading punches will be dealt with very seriously. We know that tempers will boil over from time to time, but it's important that we try to avoid the 'all-in brawl' when most of the players join in the fighting that looks like a 1950's western bar fight. Thankfully this does not happen as often as it used to in previous eras.

In general rugby league has made massive improvements in terms of on-field discipline in my life time. It used to be common for one player to be sent off whilst another one was carried off at the same time.

I don't want to see the game losing any of the aggression which makes it so appealing to so many of its supporters but we must move with the times and do everything that we can to maintain the highest level of respect for authority.

Comments (7)

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Mark Hemp says...

Cannot believe some fo the comments on here. Obviously by people who have never played the game before and have no idea about the game. There is no place in rugby league for a mass brawl! Players running in from other end of the pitch should be banned and fined heavily. Anyone who think otherwise is a thug!

Posted 13:55 15th March 2013

Stu B says...

BRING BACK THE BIFF!

Posted 19:41 14th March 2013

Jason Coombes says...

I can't believe the morons on here who say this type of brawling is okay - no wonder the game of Rugby league is so much trouble if you have ignorant and neanderthal fans like this! Rugby League is tough game, it's a great game too but there is no place for brawling in the modern age. Red card and fine them - happy to have Hock et all red carded for disrespecting the ref too.

Posted 19:39 14th March 2013

Andy Mellors says...

You are wrong here Mr Clarke! Fans love it, players love it! Sin bin both players and get on with the game. That is what makes Rugby League unique from other sports! That is part of their selling point! Plus a great game, great players like Sam Tomkins, Callum Watkins and Gareth Hock, modern stadiums like JJB, Langtree Park, Widnes and Huddersfield. Come on Phil its exciting!

Posted 13:22 14th March 2013

Mark F says...

Agreed. Red cards should be for deliberate foul play, not for being involved in a scrap. There is nothing better than a good fight in a big game, it stirs the adrenalin. Give them breather in the bin, then if they do something else, perhaps look at them taking an early bath.

Posted 13:06 14th March 2013

Gary Baker says...

I'm with Brian Carney on this one. Nothing gets the adrenalin going at a sporting contest than a bit of fisty-cuffs. Sending them both to the bin for 10 minutes usually does the trick. The red card should be reserved for serious offences like stamping and gouging. Incidentally you mention the famous Morley red-card incident in the Aussie test. What does an Australian have to do to get sent off against GB/England? The last time we beat them in 2006 in Sydney Willie Mason downed Fielden (surely at least 10 minutes) and then hit Long late in the head with an elbow (surely a red)? Fitzgibbon once dropped Sculthope with an elbow on the deck too and didn't even get a yellow. I think we should be told Phil - when was the last time an Aussie got sent off, even sin-binned, against us?

Posted 10:46 14th March 2013

Dan B says...

Phil Clarke may want to see less fighting but I dont think many other people do. Nothing like a good rumble to fire up both the players and fans at big fixtures

Posted 20:40 13th March 2013

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