World Rugby considering global trial of 20-minute red cards

World Rugby will consider rolling out the 20-minute red card as a global law trial after a weekend featuring a number of controversial refereeing decisions.

The law, which is currently being trialled in Super Rugby, means the sent off player can be tactically replaced by a substitute after 20 minutes. Supporters believe it stops matches being ruined as spectacles by early red cards while the sent off player is still subject to a possible suspension. Some insiders at the Rugby Football Union have indicated they would be prepared to back it after England lock Charlie Ewels was sent off after 82 seconds against Ireland in the Six Nations.

However, there is also a concern that it could lessen the deterrent effect, especially at a time when World Rugby is determined to keep lowering tackle heights. So far the Super Rugby trial has proved inconclusive which is why chief executive Alan Gilpin is weighing up whether to extend it into a global law trial.

“That’s been discussed before and will be discussed again,” Gilpin told Telegraph Sport. “It would be great if more competitions, even in a closed trial, would use it because that would give us more of an overview of the effect it would have on the game.

“We need to see more of the data to see if that strikes the balance between safety and spectacle better. I think there is more work to do to analyze that and the concern is if a team goes back to 15 players is that enough of a deterrent to drive that behavior change. We would like to see it trialled more widely before drawing any conclusions. ”

This weekend World Rugby confirmed the 50:22, goal line dropout and scrum brake foot global law trials will be adopted permanently at its next council meeting in May. The 20-minute red card trial could not come into effect until after the 2023 World Cup.

The latest round of European action provided a number of debatable refereeing decisions, notably with Leicester center Guy Porter being sent off for a head on head collision with Clemont back-row Fritz Lee. While not commenting on individual decisions, Gilpin says he fully sympathizes with players who are sent off for getting their timing wrong but is adamant that cutting down on high tackles has to be the overriding priority.

“Ultimately we want to create a landscape where the game is as safe as it can be, notwithstanding the intrinsic physical nature of the game, and a great spectacle,” Gilpin said. “We are trying to find that balance but it is really hard. We have sympathy for players who are making these decisions in a fraction of a second. It is hugely difficult for the match officials to find that balance as well in a game that is moving so fast. It is a challenge that is ongoing but we have to make sure that player welfare at the top of the agenda and that means moving the game to a place where head contact is unacceptable. ”

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