Ryan Wilson calls for “common sense” in dealing with dangerous play

Glasgow Warriors back-row suggests 20-minute red cards with the offending player not allowed back onto the park

Ryan Wilson is hoping for more common sense around the way dangerous play is refereed. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Ryan Wilson is hoping for more common sense around the way dangerous play is refereed. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

RYAN WILSON believes that rugby’s law makers and law enforcers should find a “common sense” solution to dealing with incidents such as Zander Fagerson’s red-carding during Scotland’s Six Nations clash against Wales on Saturday, when a sending-off offence has occurred going by the letter of the law but there doesn’t appear to have been any malice and no injury has been caused.

Player safety must be a priority in all sports, and the current threat of a legal case being brought by a group of former internationalists who believe rugby’s authorities failed to adequately protect them from the risks of concussion means that this is a particularly hot topic at the moment, but Wilson believes that it is possible to protect against serious injury without needing to adopt a zero-tolerance approach.

“I think that it was another one, like Wayne Barnes [red-carding Peter O’Mahony] the week before, where they probably didn’t want to give it,” said Wilson, when asked for his take on Fagerson’s 54th minute dismissal against Wales. “But the way the law is, shoulder contacting the head with whatever force, I think you’re looking at a red every time.

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“I don’t think it should be a red, because I don’t think it was dangerous play in any way, but that’s the problem with the laws at the moment – they state if there’s shoulder-to-head contact it’s a red card.

“So, we’ve got to look at a way to get round that, I suppose. Probably have a little bit more, dare I say, common sense coming into those decisions, with the referee actually being able to look at it and [rather than] saying ‘oh well, I’ve got to go by the letter of the law’, let’s have a little bit of leniency there, or trying to find ways to stop ruining the game.”

Wilson believes that a law variation along the lines of the one trialled in New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition last year and set to be introduced into the USA’s Major League Rugby [MLR] competition when it kicks off again next month might the solution.

“I’ve heard that the MLR are talking about maybe having a 20-minute red card, which seems quite interesting,” he said. “So, you get a red card and that player goes off for 20 minutes, and I don’t think you can bring him back on.

“The amount of times we see these red cards given to things that sometimes can’t be avoided, or they’re not cynical, you don’t mean to do it, and it sometimes just destroys the game a little bit in such big games as that. Without that red card, do Scotland go on and win? It’s a difficult one.”

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“As stupid as it sounds, we just steam into those rucks and you just try to clear bodies out the way,” he added. “If a head pops up at the last minute what are you meant to do?

“And now, if you come in at a different angle, he’ll get done for coming in at the side, because they are trying to make you come through the gate, so if that’s all you’ve got to hit then you are stuck. It is unfortunate and something they need to look at.

“It’s not a lack of clarity as I know if that happens it’s probably going to be a red card. I just think there needs to be a tweak of the laws somewhere around that. Obviously, you have to look after the safety of the players but you’re going to get hit in the head when you’re in a ruck.

“Sometimes it just comes down to the law and how they word it, but I don’t know if these referees sit and have a conversation where they say: ‘let’s not stick right to the letter of the law’. The problem with that is you are just going to get more inconsistency that people are going to moan about.

“That 20 minutes red-card thing could be a good solution to it. So, if a player does something silly that they didn’t mean then 20 minutes is going to be a big hit for them, but at least you are going to get a player back on the field and you can go again with 15 men.

“It’s hard. If you think about the rules and how these red-cards work, my idea is these ones that you might call accidental, like someone falling into tackle and hitting the shoulder of the oncoming player, that would be one of those red-cards when you go off for 20 minutes and someone else can then come back on. Punching someone in the face doesn’t warrant that – it’s a straight up red card because otherwise it would be chaos.

“[I’m talking about] when a player hasn’t intentionally gone out to maliciously hurt someone, and I don’t think Zander was trying to do damage, he was clearing out the ruck and the player’s head has popped up at the last minute.

“You could say the same if a player was to jackal and at the last minute they release and put the head up, you are going to make contact with the players head, and now I can see referees giving red cards for that.”

Wilson also warned about the danger of unintended consequences. “That could be a tactic for players now, where they go in and at last minute put their head up so you make contact with their head,” he suggested.

“There’s a lot of stuff where coaches will looking at it and thinking how can we make this work for us. You never know, there could be something around it where players are trying to do this to make it harder to clear. If you are at the bottom of a ruck and you put you head up then someone can’t then come steaming in to clear you out. So, players will look at all those little tactics and find ways to play on the edge.”

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For his own part, Wilson is hoping to be back in action again this Friday night, when Warriors aim to play their first game since mid-January and only their third game since mid-December, at home to Ulster.

“We’ve already spoken about how they are one of the most physical teams in the league with the size of their players, so we just need to make sure we front up there,” said the 31-year-old back-row, who picked up the last of his 49 caps during the 2019 World Cup and says he hasn’t given up on a return to the national squad yet.

“We got beat in the first two or three phases when we played them over there in November so we need to make sure we deal with them up front straight off the bat.

“With Dan McFarland they’ve got a brilliant driving line-out so that’s something we’ll work on, and after that the first two or three phases is going to be massive for us to stop them on the gain-line, because that’s where they thrive.

“Then they’ve got John Cooney at scrum-half, who is one of the most dangerous nines in rugby. I was surprised not to see him in that Ireland squad. So, they’ve got a lot of quality throughout their squad at the moment.”

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About David Barnes 4028 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The 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. Ryan can I suggest you go read the Laws of the game?

    Law 9 Foul Play

    20. Dangerous play in a ruck or maul.
    a. A player must not charge into a ruck or maul. Charging includes any contact made without binding onto another player in the ruck or maul.
    b. A player must not make contact with an opponent above the line of the shoulders.
    c. A player must not intentionally collapse a ruck or a maul.

    How can 20a be interpreted any other way? What fabled common sense would arrive at a different decision?

    Players should have been briefed on this. They all saw what happened to OMahoney last week. But Zander still steamed in.

    Perhaps getting professionals to observe the laws?

    • First and foremost you need the Ref to ref the laws.It starts by allowing players at the ruck to get into what are euphemistically called “strong positions” meaning they are too low to move without going in at pace. Strong positions includes the jackal (show me one jackal who has his head above his hips). Simple solution, ban the jackal, ensure players step over th ball to pick it up, not scrabble around with their hands from in front of it. Once you’ve done that have everyone not only arrive on their feet but no hands on the ground or you are out of the game. Instantly the ruck is higher and safer. You have ruck and counter ruck available and (hopefully) a few more bodies in it opening space up elsewhere. Old fashioned rucking if you will.
      As for ZF specifically, he wasn’t sent off. for “charging” but for contact with the head which everyone sees to think is an automatic red card, it isn’t. It starts at red but mitigation (or common sense!) brings it down to yellow. Mitigation includes, the target moved. Jones was moved vertically and laterally by Hogg just before the contact, which rules out Carley’s line of sight argument instantly) Mitigation also if the contact wasn’t direct to the head with force, this was at worst a glancing blow with the majority of impact on the chest. Poor decision, and in fairness to the TMO, he was trying to talk Carley round to common sense.

  2. I know we probably don’t want to go down the route of American Football. But if all players had to wear scrum caps or something similar (not full blown helmets) then that would maybe allow for unintentional low impact collisions to be treated differently. So yellow card or pen whilst still protecting players?

    • It has been proven that scrum caps offer very little or no protection from collisions or concussion. Its the brain moving inside the head that causes the trauma. There is no way to protect from that. Even with an NFL helmet.

      The forwards game today has been likened to being in a 30mph car crash 40 or 50 times in a game.

      I don’t have an answer to the problem apart from maybe going more towards league rules.

  3. Punching someone in the face is a red card.

    But, what if the guy you punch is called Owen Farrell? Surely there should be an exemption there.


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