SEAN EDWARDS: Harsh referees are putting ordinary fans away from rugby – officials need to be given more leeway with red and yellow cards… and England fans should not panic despite recent problems

  • It is clear that referees need more freedom of action regarding red and yellow cards
  • We see many incidents of players protesting to get the referees’ attention
  • The system is too rigid, which is ineffective for ordinary sports fans

Sometimes the best advice comes from people who know nothing about the game.

When I was a player I had a terrible season when I lost my place in the Great Britain rugby league team. There was a guy who worked at the treadmill and he said to me, “You’re not as aggressive as you used to be, are you?”

He didn’t know much about rugby, but his words resonated with me and within a few months I was back in the team.

It is clear that rugby referees need to be given more latitude in red and yellow cards

I had a similar experience over the weekend when I got some friends together to watch the games. They don’t watch a lot of rugby, but they fluctuate between sports, and one of them said to me: “The problem with rugby, Sean, is that the referees are on TV more than the players.”

They were put off by it, and it’s those neutral fans that the sport needs to attract.

There was one red card and two yellow cards in England’s game against Australia. Rugby is not an easy game to referee but we have some fantastic referees. I just think they need to be given a bit more leeway with red and yellow cards.

A lot of attention to referees can alienate ordinary sports viewers

A lot of attention to referees can alienate ordinary sports viewers

As the referees follow a strict formula, we see players protesting to get their attention

As the referees follow a strict formula, we see players protesting to get their attention

At the moment, if you hit someone in the head, it’s a red card. Obviously the game should be safe, but I think the system is too harsh.

With referees now following a strict card formula, we see players protesting to bring incidents to their attention. My concern is that too many players turn every time there is a little contact.

It’s similar to soccer where the players raise their hands up. It’s not rugby, is it? I worry that we may be at a tipping point.

People ask me how France won the Six Nations and the first thing I say is that we didn’t get any red cards or yellow cards. Most fans would like to see fewer cards in the game.

People pay a lot of money to watch a test match and I’m sure they’d rather watch 15 vs 15. I just hope they don’t start voting with their feet.


My message to English fans would be that you are not too far away. Eddie Jones is in the heat of the game after back-to-back losses, but things could change soon. Trust me, I’ve been there.

When I coached Wales, we lost to Australia 11 times in a row, each time by a different score. Everyone was talking about mentality and thinness. In 2019, the year of the World Cup, we beat them twice when it mattered.

Eddie Jones has faced a lot of criticism lately, but things could change very quickly

Eddie Jones has faced a lot of criticism lately, but things could change very quickly

That’s how quickly things can change. England do not lose Test matches by 30 or 40 points. They lost by a relatively small margin, excluding the Baa-Baas game.

When I joined France, we were winning and losing big matches by one point. If you are within this margin, you are on the verge of turning losses into wins.

It sounds simple, but the key to winning in international rugby is to keep the opposition out of your 22. You need to stop giving Australia penalties because that’s when they hit the line and start the attack.


I read David Campese’s interview in Sportsmail last Saturday and I’ve always been wary of ex-players looking at the game through rose-tinted glasses.

He wants to see counter-attacking attempts, but the game has changed since the 1980s and 90s.

I am partly to blame because I introduced a 13-2 defense – where you have 13 players in the front line and two full-backs – which makes it difficult to score on the counter-attack.

There are more tries in international rugby now than ever, but most of them come from mauls or pick-and-gos.

Multiple attempts count and are worth the same number of points.

The players don’t celebrate less just because they didn’t kick the ball from their own 22.


It was exciting to watch Regan Grace switch codes this week and sign with Racing 92. I have watched Regan from afar and he has become a great player in the league.

He will be suited to play on the closed field of “Racing” with Gael Fiku and Virimi Vakatava. He is a very tough kid and extremely fast. His finish is deadly. I’m really excited to see how it turns out.


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