Professional rugby players have been given a massive “wake-up call” after five red cards in the English Premiership’s latest round.
Three players were sent off in the Leicester Tigers-Wasps game and two were dismissed in Bath’s west country derby against Gloucester.
Four of the five red cards were for shots to the head, with referees taking a tough line after edicts from rugby authorities that player safety must be paramount.
World Cup referee Wayne Barnes sent off Gloucester prop Val Rapava-Ruskin in the eighth minute on Friday (Saturday NZ time) for leading with his arm into Bath flanker Josh Bayliss’ head.
He then waved a red card at Bath forward Mike Williams in the 51st minute after his tackle slipped up and made contact with Gloucester fullback Kyle Moyle’s head.
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Barnes’ conversations with his fellow match officials, heard on the television commentary, made it clear that referees had to have zero tolerance on high tackles where the victim was struck in the head.
Leicester had loose forwards Jasper Wiese (head shot) and Hanno Liebenberg (tackling Wasps wing Josh Bassett in mid-air) sent off on Saturday (Sunday NZ time) while Wasps prop Kieran Brookes was banished by referee Craig Maxwell-Keys for striking Tomas Lavinini’s head.
There were no complaints from any of the coaches after the red card incidents, with Wasps director of rugby Lee Blackett describing the sendings-off spree as a “wake-up call”.
“With the game getting bigger and faster, it’s becoming increasingly important to look after the players,” Blackett said.
“All three players today made contact with the head so realistically there can be no complaints as players’ safety is paramount.
“I think the players are adapting to what is required, but this weekend has been a wake-up call with two dismissed at Bath last night and another three here today.”
Leicester director of rugby Steve Borthwick told BBC Radio Leicester: “The rules are clear and the referees have protocols to follow, and we have to deal with that.
“In the Bath game on Friday and here it’s very clear what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Player welfare has to be paramount.”
Gloucester’s head coach George Skivington said: “I don’t think either of the red cards [at Bath] were malicious, but they are the rules and you have to live by the rules.”
Bath’s director of rugby Stuart Hooper said he “can see why they’ve given [the red card]” against his team.