RWC23: Scotland v Tonga reaction: Gregor Townsend questions ‘Bunker’ system

Head coach doesn't understand why challenge which concussed Jamie Ritchie was not upgraded a red-card

Jamie Ritchie suffered a concussion from Afusipa Taumpepeau's shoulder-on-head tackle. Image: © Craig Watson -
Jamie Ritchie suffered a concussion from Afusipa Taumpepeau's shoulder-on-head tackle. Image: © Craig Watson -

GREGOR TOWNSEND was generally happy with the way his team had bounced back from their World Cup opening weekend disappointment against South Africa when picking up the bonus point by half-time and ultimately securing a comfortable seven tries to two victory over Tonga, which keeps their dream of qualifying for the quarter-finals of this tournament alive for at least one more week.

But he also expressed his anger and exasperation at the inconsistencies of the match officiating at this World Cup after Tongan winger Afusipa Taumpepeau escaped with a yellow and not a red card following his shoulder-on-head tackle which left Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie that could rule him out of the team’s final pool match against Ireland in two weekends.

The flanker now faces a 12-day return to play process, which could be longer if he fails any of the daily tests which track his recovery, and with there being only a 13 day gap between Scotland’s Tonga and Ireland matches, an anxious wait lies ahead. Ritchie will definitely miss next Saturday’s game against Romania in Lille although he was likely to be rested for that one anyway.

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“It’s very disappointing that our captain, one of our key players, was hit in the head and had to be removed from the game,” said Townsend. “It’s twice now that’s happened because against South Africa, our No 8, Jack Dempsey, was hit in the head. Nothing happened that day, and today it was only a yellow card.

“I heard the referee saying there was mitigation in terms of height for why it stayed as a yellow. I just don’t understand what the TMO, ‘Bunker’ [foul play review officer] and the three [on-field] officials are looking at.

“We’re trying to look at ways to not give red cards rather than referee what isn’t a legal tackle and should be a red card, in my opinion.”

The ‘Bunker’ system was introduced before this World Cup to allow a foul play to be reviewed from multiple video angles by a separate match official while the game carries on. The objective is to reduce the number of dangerous challenges in the game but the tournament has been littered with missed incidents, confusing verdicts and a general sense of bewilderment at the apparent lack of consistency and clarity.

“The ‘bunker’ is not being delivered the way I thought it would be, which is only if the referee is not sure at the time whether it’s a yellow card or a red card,” Townsend added. “I don’t believe there’s been a red card issued by a referee yet – they’ve all gone to the ‘bunker’.

“It’s to help referees when they are not sure whether it’s yellow or red card, but it’s taking the game away from the referees to make those decisions.

“If there is mitigation there for a player who runs into contact and gets hit in the head, I don’t see it,” he continued, turning his attention back to the Taumpepeau-Richie incident. “It’s supposed to be a late or sudden change in movement, but Jamie didn’t even carry the ball that low and got hit in the head.

“This tournament is our showcase, our opportunity to show what is legal and what is illegal, what we want out of the game. That’s two tackles now, both upright, both hit the head of our players, one had no sanction, not even a penalty, and the second one just had a yellow card. I don’t think that’s good enough.”


“I felt the players showed huge physicality today. The contact work, the ball carrying and in terms of defence,” he continued. “We do defend in a different way, a lot of it is about riding the tackle and making sure that ball is slowed down. I thought we did that very well. It was an excellent physical contest, but I can only talk about the tackle that led to our captain being removed from the field and not being able to return.”

Townsend also promised Ireland – who are riding high after their epic victory over South Africa on Saturday night – that their progress to the knock-out stages of this World Cup is not a foregone conclusion, despite their commanding position in Pool B with three wins from three matches, and their excellent recent record against Scotland of eight wins from the last eight meeting (by an average of 14 points per match).

“Reading a few comments after the game, it looked like Ireland were already in the quarter-finals,” he said. “Even chatting to a few people today, they were saying it will be Ireland against New Zealand. Maybe that’s already been decided.

“We know we have to win our next two games, and it’s likely now we’ll have to win with either a bonus point or deny Ireland a bonus point. But we’ve got a game next week to focus on and we’ve got to get maximum points from that one first.”

RWC23: Scotland v Tonga report: Scots get the job done

About David Barnes 3672 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. Another thought that comes to mind is the part World Rugby may be playing behind the scenes regarding instructions to Referee.
    I don’t think since this system in the RWC has started that a straight Red card has been issued and you have to wonder why in some aspects, are they removing the power of the referee to send someone off for an obvious Red, you would hope not.

  2. I think it is strange that we don’t know who is in the ‘bunker’. I also don’t think it is unreasonable for them to provide an explanation for their decisions. Ben Whitehouse again the TMO. Why can’t the TMO give a red card recommendation if they believe it is the case, although poor Ben missed the Kriel/Dempsey incident altogether so it is probably asking too much.

    Perhaps the bunker contains the likes of Craig Joubert and George Clancy – that would explain some of the decisions being made.

  3. Is there still a citing commissioner attending each game? Although a citing for Afusipa Taumpepeau will make no difference to either Jamie Ritchie’s concussion or the opportunity that Scotland might have taken against 14 players to rack up a better points differential, the message should be underlined that this type of head contact is not tolerated, especially in this case where the shoulder was deliberately driven up into the head. It seems to me that the authorities concerned are trying to give the impression of how ‘statistically’ clean this world cup is at the risk to the victims of what is blatant foul play aimed at serious injury.

  4. I can’t help but get the impression that a directive from World Rugby on the lines of ‘if there is a chance to keep to the Yellow, especially if it’s early doors don’t escalate to Red we don’t want to have games decided on Cards.
    BUT who introduced the changes to the Laws without consideration to the unforeseen consequences in a fast moving contact Sport, World Rugby, from the IRB to WR, legislators have much to answer for.
    World Rugby created more problems than they have eradicated by introducing changes to the Laws without consideration for the unintended consequences.
    Amongst those, the aspect of gaining a ‘penalty’ if you can keep the ball carrier from touching the ground with a knee has led to a style of tackle that promotes the possibility of a collision of heads, remove the reward and organically you remove the upright tackle or is that too simplistic, am I creating a similar failure of not considering the consequences of removing the penalty award?
    Find a way to involve the Forwards rather than having them spread across the field a la League, remember the wise words of Bill McLaren in that respect when he suggested words to the effect of it was ‘stifling’ the game.
    I don’t ever remember players launching themselves into the air in my playing days, whether it was legal or not then as opposed to now isn’t the question anyway, if you want to remove the contact in the air with the potential for players falling awkwardly, players hitting opposition with knee or foot going up or coming down, outlaw the leaping for the ball.
    Whilst I am at it the change of making a ‘Mark’ to what it is today, and some of the delay in calling for it, well they will be sending a ‘Whatsapp’ quicker.
    When the game went professional it changed another aspect, it was no longer a Sport primarily for the Player, consequently World Rugby’s thought process is for the spectacle rather than the benefit of the game, if you get my drift. When you think back to the attendance at 5Nation fixtures, the vast majority of the crowd would be Players who had played the morning fixture and then off to the ground, most often or not with a spare ticket from the opposition team. The vast majority of the remainder of spectators would be former players, now that the professional game is ‘an entertainment Sport’ the make up of the stadia on International day, and at the RWC represents the change, which is fine but in the change to the professional game the baby is clinging to the side of the empty bath, the water having been disposed of, once again, if you get my drift.

    • Agree with a lot you say, the scrum is another area where changes have brought on unthought consequences.
      The more I think of the head on head and similar type collisions the more I’m inclined to just make the offence a straight red, no mitigating circumstances but let the player be replaced by another player after 10 min. The legals can then impose the ban later as they see fit depending on all the circumstances involved.

      • My issue with allowing the player to be replaced is that it is really no worse a consequence for the offending team than the player being given a yellow, down to 14 players for 10 minutes and then back to a full team in either scenario. Perhaps allow another player to replace after the 10 minutes is up but in addition, have a points penalty (certainly 7 points, maybe 10). So spectators aren’t faced with the possibility of an uncompetitive match for the remaining time and the offending team still has a chance of catching up but has received a strong enough sanction to deter the offence. I don’t think anyone can explain some of the decisions being made in the TMO bunker in this tournament, so inconsistent and it’s seemingly OK to hit any Scottish player you like in the head unless the game is already decided. A total farce. Also agree that removing the maul turnover would be another incentive to tackle lower and would probably end up with more rucks and opportunity to jackal, avoiding a few scrums on the way which have turned into a lottery as well.

      • The Game certainly needs more consistency and less faffing-about in those head-on-head & similar situations, Iain. Your proposals offer an admirable, workable & straightforward solution.

      • Problem with allowing a replacement is twofold. One as Warks Scot says is that it becomes effectively a yellow card – and a licence to “take out” a key player. The other problem is coaching. Many high hits a ala Farrel are players targetting the ball. Some allegedly others genuinely. But the slightest misjudgment and it’s a hit on the head. Players are coached to do this. Sanctions must be to not just the player but the team and the coach. So red cards hit all 3, and puts pressure on coaches and teams to change their ways, and peer pressure may also apply

      • I would agree with Warks Scot and Septic+9 regarding the replacement aspect, to allow a substitute player back on is, as they suggest no worse than a 10 minutes in the Bin.

    • George, Remove the mark altogether – yet another stop/start ruining the flow of the game. In the professional era do we really need to reward players for catching the ball?

      • That’s a reasonable point about removal, but it’s even less of an achievement now than it used to be with regard to catch and heel and a call.
        But that’s the least of the Games problems.

  5. Totally agree with GT regarding the red card and bunker situation. Even worse was the 2nd offence which was later upgraded to a red. The Tongan player recklessly hit the ruck with no other intention but to hurt someone, why the referee didn’t give a straight red I’ll never know.
    The officiating which has been quite good bar the Wales Fiji game and the Scotland v Tongan ( take away the cards he was dreadful) along with the actual games is in danger of being over shadowed by the bunker system.
    World rugby and all those involved have got to understand the danger of these head collisions but act on them. The red card is one part of the punishment but the bans are the second part. They should be 6/8/10 weeks plus for these offences and as for tackle school for professional players, joke.
    The long term effects of head knocks is becoming more apparent, I sadly had a conversation with a family member of a player from my generation who is now in a home with dementia, physically fit but can’t even recognise his family.
    The game needs a serious look at and discussion with intelligent current and ex players who understand what is wrong. Many good points have been raised on television but none will be acted on
    The 8 substitutes is there to favour our most powerful rugby nations. Have 8 on the bench but only 3 for tactical substitutes the rest for medical cover. If there is a medical injury the player leaves the pitch and is independently assessed. Bringing on 8 fresh players to play against tired players who have to play 80 minutes is not good for the game and has safety issues. The top of world rugby is served with self interest and they are still playing with players lives and well being.

    • Agreed, and the ‘Bench’ trooping on at 60 minutes is another of those Rugby World bits of legislation that was introduced without too many brain cells being used another one of, in my opinion, changes that have done little to improve the game or as you comment, made it any safer.

    • Totally agree re substitutes and also do many columnists and pundits – I think Geech is among those. It’s got to the point now where South Africa in particular, are constantly monitoring a players physiological stats and then substituting them the moment the stats drop rather than necessarily when they stop playing well. Surely part of the sport should be to be able to last the full 80 minutes – tiring players create space which should then allow more running rugby which is what spectators want and then there is the safety factor too. It’s so obvious, I can’t believe the idea hasn’t gained more traction, especially as player safety is being touted as the top priority. Time that WRU put its words into action.

      • On your comment regarding the replacement of a red carded player after 10 min. What I should have said is that the bans imposed should be 6/8/10 + weeks, missing many games, no one in their right mind would cynically remove a top player intentionally in that circumstance.
        A lot of what is going on is not intentional but bad technique, bad habit, laziness and poor coaching and can be addressed if need be.

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