Former international referee, Irishman Alan Lewis, has defended his compatriot Alain Rolland over Saturday’s dismissal of Wales captain Sam Warburton in the World Cup semi-final against France.
Warburton was this morning handed a three-week ban by the International Rugby Board after admitting “a dangerous tip tackle” on France winger Vincent Clerc, for which Rolland sent him off in the 18th minute of Wales’ 9-8 defeat, and Lewis insisted the decision was justified.
“It’s very tough,” Lewis told BBC Radio Five Live. “In the mind of any referee is the duty to protect players – whether it’s a World Cup semi-final, a club game or a school game.
“Law 10.4 is quite specific regarding driving or letting go of an opponent, it talks about bringing a player down safely.
“Alain Rolland had a decision to make, and bringing in the touch judges wouldn’t have aided him because it was in the middle of field.”
Wales coach Warren Gatland pointed the finger at Rolland after the match when he said “Our destiny was taken away from us”, while defence coach Shaun Edwards labelled the defeat “a travesty”.
But Corkman Lewis said: “I don’t see the issue of spoiling a semi-final. The responsibility for foul play doesn’t lie with the referee, it lies with the players – the judgment of foul play lies with the referee.
:: Watershed moment
“The word I would use yesterday is ‘unfortunate’. Overall, Alain Rolland refereed the game really, really well but that’s all been forgotten with that one split-second incident.
“The first instinct I had was ‘that could be a red card’.”
And Lewis stressed such tackles should now be banned to preserve player safety, citing New Zealand’s infamous spear tackle on British and Irish Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll early in the 2005 tour.
“I think the difficulty with this decision has been that with these tip tackles, there hasn’t been any really clear direction – you can go back as far as Brian O’Driscoll in 2005, when nothing happened,” he said.
“Is it going to take someone potentially getting killed?
“When you’re in that position, you are defenceless. Warburton couldn’t have been in any control of bringing Vincent Clerc down safely.
“I don’t like those type of tackles and they need a bit of direction. I think they should be potentially banned and I think after tomorrow, it will perhaps be a watershed moment.”