Former Ireland head coach Eddie O’Sullivan says he believes referees are under pressure to avoid issuing red cards given the consequences of such decisions on big games.
O’Sullivan’s comments come in the wake of Uini Atonio’s three-match ban after a yellow card he received for a high tackle against Ireland in the Guinness Six Nations was adjudged to have warranted a red following a citing process.
Atonio was sin-binned in the first half of France’s 32-19 defeat at the Aviva Stadium after his challenge forced Ireland hooker Rob Herring off for a head injury assessment from which he did not return.
Referee Wayne Barnes was criticised by a number of pundits for his failure to send off the 32-year-old La Rochelle player.
O’Sullivan believes that Barnes effectively bottled the decision given the magnitude of the match between the world No.1s and No.2s.
“By any metric that was red,” O’Sullivan told the RTÉ Rugby podcast. “[But] the pressure is on referees now. If he pulls out a red there, and he should, that changes the game for everybody, it’s now 14 against 15, it’s a different game of rugby.
“I’m not defending what he did, but at that moment, referees have been prone to back out of red cards because the consequences are so big for the game.”
Atonio was suspended for Les Bleus’ Six Nations appointments with Scotland, England and Wales.
But an independent judicial committee granted an application by Atonio to take part in a coaching intervention programme, which means he will be available to face Wales on March 18 if he completes it.
He admitted that he had committed an act of foul play worthy of a red card,” a Six Nations statement read.
“Having reviewed all the evidence, the committee accepted the player’s admission that the tackle on Ireland number two was foul play.
“His shoulder made contact with Ireland number two’s neck/face as described in the citing commissioner’s report, and therefore reached the red-card threshold.”
additional reporting PA