SA Refs – Why Poite was wrong

The IRB have confirmed that referee Romain Poite was wrong to issue the first yellow card to Bismarck du Plessis, the SARU referees website explains why, including some truly inept use of the TMO.

The tackle on Dan Carter.

Dan Carter drops out after a missed kick at goal from Morne Staeyn, the ball bounces and Tony Woodcock passes the ball to Aaron Smith, who sends out a long, looping pass to Carter. Carter does not see Bismarck du Plessis approaching from his blind side. Carter catches the ball and Du Plessis tackles Carter heavily. The referee immediately blows his whistle and much aggression breaks out between the two sides, none of it centred on Du Plessis.

When Poite blew his whistle, he indicated a penalty to New Zealand. Jean de Villiers asked: “What was wrong with the tackle?” … Poite replied: “Height, shoulder, no arms.”

Poite then told the TMO that he had made his decision about the tackle but asked him if there was foul play afterwards – that is in the squabbling. The TMO did as he was asked and detects no foul play.

There was no examination of the tackle from the TMO and Poite did not examine any replay of the tackle either. He calls Du Plessis to him and says: “Height and no arms” and shows him a yellow card. Du Plessis is shocked and goes to the sin bin.

Key things to consider:

  1. Du Plessis was not offside. There had been no ruck or maul and only New Zealanders had played the ball.
  2. Carter had the ball. It was not tackling a man without the ball.
  3. A high tackle is defined by law:


(e) A player must not tackle (or try to tackle) an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders. A tackle around the opponent’s neck or head is dangerous play.

Sanction: Penalty kick

Du Plessis did not tackle Carter above the line of Carter’s shoulders, nor did Du Plessis attempt to do so.

  1. Not using the arms is also laid down by the Laws.


(g) Dangerous charging. A player must not charge or knock down an opponent carrying the ball without trying to grasp that player.

Sanction: Penalty kick

Du Plessis’s right arm was wrapped around Carter’s back. His left arm and hand were across Carter’s chest, his left hand touching the ball.

He used his arms. He was not guilty of not using his arms.

Summary from the SA Referees website:

The reasons the referee gave for sending Du Plessis to the sin bin were wrong. It was a refereeing mistake. Mistakes happen but in this case it was so unnecessary. The referee had time to consult his assistants and the TMO and to look at the evidence on the big screen. He, an experienced Test referee, did none of those things but relied on his single impression in real time – and he was wrong.

The New Zealand players were also wrong to start a brawl. It may just be that the referee and the New Zealand players were startled by seeing the hero, one of the greatest players in the history of rugby football, knocked to the ground and injured. But the player must be found guilty of an infringement in law and not because Carter was hurt in an action that is legal under Law.

There should not have been a yellow card against Du Plessis.


The charge into Liam Messam

In the second incident Du Plessis gets a pass from Ruan Pienaar and has the ball under his left arm as he charges at Messam. Both players are upright. Du Plessis lifts his right arm bent at the elbow and this elbow and forearm make contact with Messam, sending him reeling backwards. The assistant referee reports possible foul play and – this time – the referee refers the incident to the TMO. The replays confirm what Du Plessis did and he was shown a second yellow card.


(a) Punching or striking. A player must not strike an opponent with the fist or arm, including the elbow, shoulder, head or knee(s).


(a) Any player who infringes any part of the Foul Play Law must be admonished, or cautioned and temporarily suspended for a period of ten minutes’ playing time, or sent-off.

It is up to the referee to determine which option he will use of (a) talking to, (b) warning and yellow card and (c) red card. In this case he opted for the middle course.

As a matter of interest John Smit acted similarly against the French captain, Jérôme Thion, when South Africa played France at Stade de France in 2005. After the match Smit was cited, found guilty and suspend for six weeks, which suggests that the IRB regarded it as a red-card offence.

Yellow + yellow = red. This is a matter of law:


(b) A player who has been cautioned and temporarily suspended who then commits a second cautionable offence within the Foul Play Law must be sent-off.



When a player is sent off, as Du Plessis was, the IRB’s regulations require that an inquiry take place. It serves two purposes. It gives the sent-off players a chance to defend himself against the charge of foul play and the disciplinary committee a chance to assess the validity of the sending off and the extent of any further action, such as a suspension, that is to be taken.

If the reason for Du Plessis’s sending off was for a second yellow card and the first one was found to be a wrong decision, then one would expect no further action against him, unless the judicial inquiry decides to examine the nature of the second yellow card, which would appear spiteful in view of what had happened.


  1. Did they say anything regarding the Nonu incident? This is becoming ridiculous as Nonu is regularly found guilty of no arms, yet if this was Butch, it was have had the fans in a frenzy calling for his head!

    1. Nothing on the SA refs site … But plenty elsewhere … Seems most people agreeing that yellow was a fair sanction …

  2. thoughts on whether all players who go up for an up and under and lead with the knees when they jump and an opponent gets hit by knee in that process?

    talking to? yellow? or red?

    Du Plessis didn’t stike Messam? or is that an interpretative thing?

    1. He did yes…if you read the laws posted in the article you will see Du Plessis is in direct contravention.

      So no – it is not an interpretive thing.

  3. Have to agree with Daryn. Nonu needs to be taken to task for continued late shoulder charges. Tank I agree that the correct on-field decision was made regarding a yellow card but is there no protocol for dealing with a serial offender and a dirty player? Should the IRB not be looking to stamp out dangerous play like aiming a late high shoulder charge at a player?

    Just to add I do feel that with this specific incident there should have been a yellow for the player who played the ball on the ground from an offside position when we were looking to attack, deliberate infringement. Poite blew for a penalty for the incident and that should have been yellow, he was then called over by his assistant for Nonu’s late hit and seemed to forget about the next infringement.

    My two cents worth about Nonu being a serial offender and the IRB not stepping in, as well as Poite having had no clue on the day.

  4. Hats off to IRB. Match officials can make mistakes, as Pro Legoete, Lourens van der Merwe and Corrie Peyper have proved over and over again. In acknowledging the mistake and reversing the red card, the right action has been taken, unlike Andre Watson who still tries to defend Lourens van der Merwe’s blunder in the WP/Lions game and the fact that Peyper ignored a few knock-ons leading to 2 of the Lions tries.

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