Mapimpi’s World Cup exit fuels red-card debate


ON THE BALL: Referee Luke Pearce got the Mapimpi-Pulu head clash wrong but it’s the system, not the referee that is to blame, writes Lucky Maree. 

What a tragic end to Makazole Mapimpi’s fairytale journey to the 2023 World Cup.

Clearly, Luke Pearce, the man in charge of the Springboks-Tonga match, got it wrong when he declared that the collision that left Mapimpi lying on the ground was a “low degree of danger”. He ruled there was enough mitigation to warrant a penalty and nothing else.

But Pearce had to make a game-changing decision in a few seconds, unleashing the horrors of a card system that the rugby world deems cast in stone.

When Mapimpi, a hard man from a tough background, who does not like to show weakness, staggered off the field with a swollen face, it certainly didn’t look like a low degree of danger, but Pearce had already made the decision.

Shortly after the game, coach Jacques Nienaber confirmed that Mapimpi had suffered a facial fracture, an injury that could see him being replaced in the 33-man squad.

“He had a blow-out fracture of his cheekbone, so he’ll probably go for specialist scans tomorrow morning to determine the severity,” Nienaber said.  


When Antoine Dupont suffered a similar injury, the crowd went ballistic. For Mapimpi there was only a hushed silence.

Namibian captain Johan Deysel, who made the tackle on Dupont got a five-match ban after he lay down in front of the authorities, pleaded for forgiveness and agreed to go to that mystical institution called the tackle school.

In yesterday’s match, Tongan scrumhalf Augustine Pulu carried on playing — and doing a great job — until he was replaced early in the second half.

Two similar incidents, two totally different outcomes.

How was referee Matthew Carley’s decision influenced by the fact that the victim was France’s crown prince Antoine Dupont and the villain was Johan Deysel from lowly Namibia? Did Carley hear the hissing, booing and whistling of the wildly partisan French crowd? Did he wonder what would happen to him in the media if he didn’t punish Deysel?

By contrast, was Pearce aware of the fact that the crowd favoured Tonga? Did he consider the reality that a card, probably a red card, would seriously impact the outcome of the match?

Being a ref is a pressure job. It is easy to make a mistake and even the best referees are always criticised for their decisions. And the job is ten times more difficult because the ref has to make game-changing decisions literally in the heat of the moment.

World Rugby (that fine league of creative and decisive decision makers) must find a way to make Rugby Union a game where 15 players take on 15 players of another team for a full 80 minutes and leave the punishment for after the match.

That would be the first prize.

The second prize would be if the referee didn’t have to make match-changing decisions on the spur of the moment. Perhaps the ref should let the game continue with all players on the field while the bunker decides if a player should be sent off the field. 

But find a way to take the pressure off the ref!

Pictured above: Makazole Mapimpi 

Image source: Springboks

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