Is international rugby seeing red more often?

Scott Barrett of New Zealand is shown the red card during the 2019 Rugby Championship Test Match between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks at Optus Stadium on August 10, 2019 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Scott Barrett of New Zealand is shown the red card during the 2019 Rugby Championship Test Match between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks at Optus Stadium on August 10, 2019 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Scott Barrett’s red card at the weekend for the All Blacks has reignited the debate over national teams’ discipline.

Scott Barrett’s red card against Australia during the 2019 Rugby Championship caused a right old kerfuffle. Well, in New Zealand anyway.

It seemed as if everyone except New Zealanders agreed that the decision was correct. But we’re not here to discuss that – you can find those debates over on Twitter.

Far more interesting is the frequency – or rather the infrequency – of red cards in rugby. And equally, whether some teams are more regular offenders (or victims if you want to take the Kiwi line) than others.

Before Barrett went bad, the last player from a top-tier nation to receive a red card was Ross Moriarty from Wales in 2018.

France are by far the worst offenders, closely followed by Italy.

Most red cards by country

Note: Not all countries who have received red cards are included here – but these are the most prominent.

Prior to Barrett’s misdemeanour, New Zealand last received a red card in 2017, when Sonny Bill Williams was given his marching orders for against the British and Irish Lions in Wellington for a shoulder charge on Anthony Watson’s head.

There was little disagreement then about the merits of the red card on that occasion – even from the Kiwis.

Much of the humdrum around rugby’s red cards centre around how the laws aren’t open for interpretation. It’s something All Blacks coach Steve Hansen pointed out before, too.

When France full-back Benjamin Fall was sent off in 2018 for a collision with another Barrett (Beauden), the All Blacks coach came to his defence. Back then, Hansen suggested that union adopts an approach similar to (rugby) league.

“It’s disappointing they lost a player,” Hansen said after the match. “I know it’s tough and they have to look after players but somehow I think that we need to look at something where that can go on the report.”

While there might be some merit in that, red cards in international rugby remain fairly rare. At the time of writing (10 August 2019), just 177 red cards had been issued.

Some teams have crossed the line more than others, but as illustrated by the line graph below, there hasn’t suddenly been a surge in boytjies behaving badly.

Most red cards in a year

Other bits and pieces

  • New Zealand’s Cyril Brownlie was the first player to be sent off in an international match back in 1925.
  • Huw Richards from Wales received the first red card at a Rugby World Cup.
  • South Africa’s Andre Venter received the first red card in a tri-nations match.
  • Four players have been sent off twice in their international careers. Uruguay’s Mario Cagnani, Samoa’s Alesana Tuilagi, Brazil’s Jonatas Santos Paulo and the United States’ Paul Emerick share that dubious honour.

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