Red Card Decision Making

Factors to consider

It is rare for a single physical action to result in a citing. More usually a citing will result from a complex set of actions and variables all occurring within a short space of time. Some of these may be intentional and dangerous, some reckless, and some non-controllable (i.e. accidental) which happens in a contact sport. When reviewing an incident, it is important to keep an open mind and be prepared to find that a matter that, on first look had all the hallmarks of foul play, was after close analysis able to be determined as a ‘rugby thing’ that was quite accidental.

Rarely in the modern game do players deliberately set about to injure an opponent. Part of the citing discipline is to be prepared to give a player the benefit of the doubt if there is justification to do so. In other words, it is quite appropriate to look for reasons initially not to take action against a player.

While ultimately the decision to cite a player or issue a Citing Commissioner Warning is yours alone, it is important to ensure consistency of decision making, particularly in a tournament or ongoing competition setting. It is therefore quite appropriate to seek the opinion on an incident from a fellow citing commissioner in a collaborative manner.

Citing decisions require the wide-ranging consideration of multiple factors and the written exploration of them in the citing narrative to justify the conclusion you have come to. The factors below are specific to the charge and once considered, in combination, they will give greater insight into whether this is serious foul play or not.

This is an indicative list of factors to consider but is not exhaustive and each case is dealt with on its particular merits. You may find other things in the incident you are investigating that need to be looked at as well.

Examples of dangerous play scenarios that are likely to be cited are included at the end of each offence category. In some instances however, the action is of such significance that a zero tolerance approach is required. These are also listed.


9.11 Players must not do anything that is reckless or dangerous to others

A catch-all for any behaviour that is not captured in any other description of offending.

9.12 Biting:
  • any teeth marks/bruising on the victim
  • was location of bite adjacent to mouth of biter during incident (video)
  • could the contact be accidental – arm pushed across open mouth
  • mouth guard in use at the time
  • zero tolerance if bite considered deliberate
9.12 Contact with the eye/eye area:
  • was pressure applied to the eyeball by the fingers
  • any injuries to the eye ball or within the eye socket
  • were hand/fingers on face for a prolonged period
  • was the contact fleeting as hand passed by face
  • zero tolerance if finger contact with the eye with pressure in a gouging manner
9.12 Punching or Striking
  • number of punches – multiple punches/strikes significantly more serious
  • spontaneous (first scrum of match) or more cynical
  • vulnerability of player struck e.g. hit from behind
  • reaction of other players
  • point of impact (head) and injury to player
  • whether any element of retaliation obvious
  • open hand or closed fist
  • how much force was involved – how effective was it
  • involvement of others drawn into the incident.

Example Scenarios:

  • an unprovoked punch to the head, kidneys or groin injuring the opponent
  • provoked punch to the head of an opponent in retaliation.
9.12 Stamping or trampling:
  • number of times of contact
  • on or close to head
  • injury to victim
  • is the ball anywhere near the boot
  • is it a legitimate attempt to free the ball
  • was knee/ankle targeted
  • where were boot studs pointing at end of action
  • how much force was involved.

Example Scenarios:

  • contact with the head, groin or joints causing injury
  • multiple stamps
  • reckless ‘mountain climbing’.
9.12 Kicking
  • Was the player trying to kick the ball
  • degree of danger
  • did victim dive in to contact unexpectedly
  • where was contact made
  • how much force was involved

Example Scenarios:

  • any kick considered deliberate and dangerous
  • kick at the ball connecting with the head of an opponent.
9.12 Tripping
  • reflex action if wrong-footed
  • degree of force used in trip
  • was it more a kick than just a trip
  • how fast was the tripped player travelling? – how great was any resultant impact

Example Scenario:

  • Deliberate thrusting out of the leg to bring down player running at pace causing injury.
9.13 Dangerous tackling:

Neck roll with/without the ball:

  • whether both hands were locked together for extra force
  • length of time held around the neck (maintain grasp for more than 3 seconds)
  • force applied to the victim player
  • degree of leverage exerted on the neck – twist and dump
  • exploration of twisting and dumping (this is vital to a Red Card threshold)
  • reaction of player/discomfort
  • injury to victim (impact)
  • risk of serious injury from force/angle in which the pressure is applied
  • whether the player rides the victim to the ground/lands on top
  • risk of serious injury to head or neck.

Example Scenarios:

  • grasp on neck followed by a twist and dumping of the opponent with significant pressure placed on neck
  • prolonged ‘choker’ hold restricting airway or blood supply with opponent clearly in distress.
9.13 High tackle:

The Head Contact Process.

The process is designed to protect the head, neck and throat area of players.

The process can be applied to:

  • High Tackles
  • Shoulder Charges
  • Dangerous cleanouts
  • Head-to-head collisons
  • Leading elbow / forearm

View Law application 

View guide

9.17 Tackling/Contact with the jumper in the air
  • were both players in with a realistic chance at competing for the ball in the air
  • where was the ball at point of contact
  • where were the players looking
  • did a player jump into contact without trying to catch the ball
  • did a player jump on to players waiting to receive the ball
  • could the chaser have avoided the collision
  • could the tackler have avoided the late contact
  • was it a realistic attempt at a charge down
  • how did players land
  • head contact with the ground

Example Scenarios:

  • player continuing in to contact with no realistic chance of competing for the ball with opponent landing dangerously
  • player jumping with boot studs contacting head of opponent.
9.18 Lifting (tip) Tackles
  • legs lifted over the horizontal
  • legs still in the air when head/shoulder hits the ground
  • did tackler try to bring to ground safely
  • was victim dropped/driven into the ground
  • initial point of contact of tackle on lower legs
  • point of contact with the ground by victim player
  • good tackle gone bad or bad tackle
  • does the player finish it as a proper tackle
  • victim forced backwards with less opportunity to break fall
  • if two players involved, leg lifter main offender.

Example Scenarios:

  • lift, tip through horizontal and dropping or driving the opponent towards the ground with head shoulder contact first with the ground, with no attempt to bring them to the ground safely
9.25 Late charging the kicker
  • attempt to “rough up” a key play maker (fly half/1st 5 8th)
  • could they have avoided the contact
  • was it a legitimate attempt to charge the ball
  • how late was it
  • Very late shoulder charge to playmaker not expecting contact causing injury

Example Scenarios:

  • late charge on the kicker with direct contact to the head with force

Law 9.27 A player must not do anything that is against the spirit of good sportsmanship

9.27 Spitting:
  • Zero tolerance unless action clearly accidental
9.27 Hair pulling or grabbing
  • was the hand caught up in long hair?
  • was the hold released immediately or in a timely manner?
  • did tackler fall to ground maintaining the grip and then released it immediately?

Example Scenarios:

  • grip on hair maintained for an unacceptable length of time (3 second test) and the opponent then flung to the ground with force with significant risk to head and neck
9.27 Grab, twist, squeeze or strike an opponent in the genital area (male or female) or, in the case of female players, the breast area
  • likely zero tolerance unless contact clearly accidental

Law 9.28 Offences Against Match Officials

9.28 Players must not disrespect the authority of a Match Official
  • zero tolerance
9.28 Verbal Abuse of Match Officials
  • zero tolerance
9.28 Threatening Actions or Words at Match Officials
  • zero tolerance
9.28 Physical contact with Match Officials:
  • zero tolerance, any physical abuse is unacceptable and needs to be acted upon unless the contact is clearly accidental

Note: When listing the nature of the offence on the citing form you must describe the exact type of contrary act that is the reason for the citing e.g. contact with or abuse of the referee, biting, eye gouging, spitting etc. as each has their own specific sanction under the Law 9 Sanctions table. See Appendix 2