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Is one punch a red-card offence?

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John Beattie | 10:06 UK time, Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Is it right that one punch to the head means a red card in Scottish rugby?

The Glasgow versus Edinburgh derby was a hot-blooded, no-holds-barred and sometimes superbly abrasive game of rugby and, as I write this, it is fresh in my mind.

It was a superb advert for rugby. The players weren't thinking about the money, or the Magners League points, or the glory; they were thinking about winning.

At the end of the game, Edinburgh lock Scott MacLeod and Glasgow flanker Chris Fusaro threw a couple of punches. And then they threw some more.

Edinburgh's Scott MacLeod and Glasgow's Chris Fusaro exchange blows in the first leg of the 1872 Cup. Photo: SNS

Scott MacLeod and Chris Fusaro exchange blows in the first leg of the 1872 Cup. Photo: SNS

This wasn't your playground, slap-in-the-face, Pansy Potter stuff. Oh no, it was more like ice-hockey meets rugby from the 1974 British Lions tour to South Africa when, legend has it, a call of "99" from any British Lion wasn't an ice cream order, but instead an order for each player to hit the closest Springbok.

Some of the punches at Firhill landed.

I may be wrong here but in the online booklet "laws of rugby union", as supplied by the IRB, a punch is a penalty offence.

In fact, here is Law 10.4 a: "Punching or striking. A player must not strike an opponent with the fist or arm, including the elbow, shoulder, head or knee(s).

"Sanction: Penalty kick."

Only thanks to Scottish Rugby Union's "no tolerance" policy is a punch to the head an automatic red card.

Neither player was hurt, ref Andy McPherson played it by the book, having been given advice by a touch judge, and both players were red-carded.

We were then treated to the close-up camera shot of both players walking from the pitch, and exchanging a handshake.

Now, what I thought I'd do in this article is put forward some points rather than express an opinion.

A lawyer friend of mine once explained that the reason lawyers get involved in rugby is that players take the field expecting a certain level of contact in a game. A hard tackle perhaps, a clear-out at a ruck, or a scrummage.

Do they expect to be punched?

I spoke to a friend who had been at the game. His opinion? Brilliant, back to the old days.

Do we want rugby to be soul-less? Do we accept that sometimes things boil over? Do we think that a punch should never be allowed, as no mother wants her son or daughter to play a game where they might be, let's say, hooked from behind?

Is one punch a red-card offence?

I played in the generation when there was punching. I wonder what you, the modern generation, think of punching in rugby.


  • Comment number 1.

    John I think what is generally missing from refereeing these days is the application of common sense. They are so tightly monitored for their performance against guidlines that they have no room for discretion. Whilst an all out brawl is never a good advert for the game a minor skirmish toward the end of a hard fought game should allow the referee some discretion on the sanction taken. I haven't had time to watch the higlights yet but when I heard that the game had been "marred by a mass brawl toward the end" my own reaction was thank good ness we now have two pro-teams filled with players desperate to win and dare I suggest desperate to show Andy Robinson the desire they have to pull on the Scotland jersey. For too long Scotland (with the odd exception - Nathan Hines) have appeared to be the least abrasive / confrontational of the 6 nations.

  • Comment number 2.

    I saw the incident and if that happened in a football match both players would probably be suspended for the rest of the season.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi John - if I'm the "modern generation"... what are you? :)

    I was at the match and my opinion is simple - if we start sending people off for "handbags" - then we will loose our status as a tough, physical game. Scraps are part of the game - as long as there is a handshake at the end then the ref should keep his cards in his pocket.

    There was nothing wrong with the MacLeod/Fusaro scrap - however, it got out of hand the second that Cross held Fusaros arms down and MacLeod continued punching him on the head - that she should be addressed and punished accordingly.

    Fingers crossed for an exciting second leg at MF

  • Comment number 4.

    " if that happened in a football match both players would probably be suspended for the rest of the season." , what about a hockey game or a round of golf?.It wasn't a football game soit really doesn't matter what would happen if it was.
    I think as long as its a "clean" fight then a penalty is enough punishment , what i dont like are the cheap shots. When a player is hit from the back or the side and does not see it coming.I would save the red cards for the dirty fighters.

  • Comment number 5.


    I am a qualified football referee and in our game a player throwing a punch is classed as violent conduct with a Red card being the result. My opinion is that any sport can be tough, physical battle but there has to be a limit to this. If these two players had exchanged punches like this in the street or in a pub or club it would be assualt and they could both be charged with this. Sport has to be tough, hard and physical but remain legal. I think both players should be hammered with a long suspension. In the football league I referee a player guilty of violent conduct who is red card and reported for such an offence can expect no less than a 8 game suspension

  • Comment number 6.

    I couldn't see the incident whilst at the game as it was on the other side of the pitch. I was hence surprised to see red cards issued. However, having seen the incident later on television I would say it was a great deal more serious than "handbags" or a "minor skirmish" and the sanction of a red card for both players was justified. I don't believe that people appear to be seriously arguing the only punishment deserved for this brawl was a penalty!

    There is no way we should be condoning, or even turing a blind eye to the kind of punch-up that took place between McLeod and Fusaro. We're not talking about a couple of half-hearted swinging arms, both players threw (and landed) several full-on punches and would have kept on going all evening had they not been stopped by the ref/teammates. You wouldn't accept this behavior in the vast majority of other sports, so why accept it in rugby? (In ice hockey the players are wearing so much protective equipment they could punch each other for half an hour without doing any serious damage!)

    Rugby is of course a game that demands a level of aggression and minor scuffles with players pushing/shoving etc will sometimes occur - These are correctly punished by penalties and occaisional yellow cards. However, full-on punching, fighting and unrestrained violent conduct can never be acceptable and must be punished accordingly. At a time when we are trying to increase player numbers one wonders how many parents would let their children start playing rugby if Monday's shenanigans were regarded as an acceptable part of the game?

  • Comment number 7.

    Yes, of course one punch should be a red-card offence!

    Let's face facts here... as dramatic as it sounds, punching is forbidden in the sport, so any attempt to do so by a participant is a criminal act! That's not my opinion... it is a fact based on the current legal system of our land.

    And for those that get-off on a bit of handbags, well I put it to you that there is no more dignity to a punch-up in a game of rugby than there is for a group of juiced-up neds scrapping on the High Street on a Saturday night! In fact, there is probably less... we expect this behaviour of neds - NOT of paid athletes!

    One more thing... a punch can cause damage... serious damage... fatal damage. People die from getting punched regularly. Can you imagine a player collapsing and dying after getting a solid-smack on the temple from a 20 stone prop. The SRU would be the last regulating body to deal with those involved... the Police and then the Criminal Courts would be first as they ran a murder trial!

    Kind of puts things in a different perspective... no!?

    PS - for those who will undoubtedly go on about rugby being a 'contact-sport' and a big-tackle possibly being more likely to cause damage than a right hook -yes, you are right. But lets go back to facts. A big tackle is LEGAL within the rules of the game, so is accepted in Criminal Law as being part and parcel of 'the game'. A player will; not be prosecuted for such an act. As before - a punch in the head is an Assault in Common Law.

  • Comment number 8.

    Interesting debate you've sparked here!

    My personal opinion is that the referee was absolutely correct to send both players from the field. Although I agree that it probably was just a "heat of the moment" exchange there are other aspects to consider, punching is not within the rules! These are professional sportsman who need to set the right example to young players in the game. Whilst rugby is, to quote Heyneke Meyer (amongst many others), "ballroom dancing is a contact sport, rugby is a collision sport". This however does not excuse punching or any other acts of violence out-with the rules.

    I understand and agree with people saying rugby needs to keep it's "contact" but lets keep it within the rules of the game. After all if people get arrested for punching in the street and not on a rugby field it could open the door to the wrong sorts of people playing rugby for the wrong reasons.

    I'm sure many may agree/disagree and ridicule me but that's my feelings on the incident.

    Let's see what sort of punishment they receive and look forward to the return fixture and the 2011 six nations, Scotland's year, I'm sure of it!

    Douglas Luke

  • Comment number 9.

    Call me cynical, but I thought the real reason red cards were handed out, rather than yellow, was because it was the 80th minute and it would have been rather futile punishing two players with the sin bin when the game was pretty much over.

  • Comment number 10.

    Not easy to find your blog this time except by searching under your name. I think it was the right call to red card them, serious punches were thrown; it's not a good advert for the game or being a good role model. The ref certainly couldn't miss it. However he certainly missed a few other things including one of the most skewed lineouts I have ever seen!

  • Comment number 11.

    John its simple

    The authorities decide if they want it in the game or not

    And we all know the only answer they could give

    Then it becomes a straight red and a penalty

    Enforce it consistently and without exception and in a season it would go

    Top matches are often razor thin and discipline would be key

    It would then filter done through clubs to kids that coaches will not pick players who punch and cost games

    I remember when in rugby league the play the ball used to be an excuse for a fight now its the most policed part of the game and as such its as clean as it could ever get

    refs and citing officers should pick on the wind up merchants and the sneaky players who often cause a punch to be thrown

    I am sick of players pulling shirts to drag others in to rucks or mauls to tie in defences only for them to swing arms to try and break free and no penalty given

    Lastly what Mum would want her son playing a game when punches like the one Buck Shelford laid out the Welshman or the young Argie prop hit Paul Acford were thrown

  • Comment number 12.

    The two red cards were the result of weak and poor refereeing and touch judges, some Edinburgh players should be a shamed of themselves with the off the ball tackles, coming in for the side, laying over the ball, dirty play from start to finish. If I had been refereeing the game six players would have been sin-bin well before the two red cards and as a result there would have never been any red cards because Scott MacLeod would have been off the pitch well well before it. Glasgow aren’t saints either, the lesser (by a canter) of two evils.

  • Comment number 13.

    Interestingly Al Kellock said "oh come on!" when the ref said he would send them off, so he obviously thought it was nothing too! I wouldn't say Geoff Cross was holding his arms down, more wrestling him out the way!

  • Comment number 14.

    "Do we accept that sometimes things boil over?"
    Everyone who has played rugby knows that it can happen.
    It would not be acceptable if it happened every game.
    I prefer to see some punches in a derby than players cheating all the time, not punished for pulling the jersey of opponents with no ball in hand!
    Something more annoying now days, is the BAD HABIT to Tackle around the ruck zone with no ball involved.

  • Comment number 15.

    I may be wrong here but I think that most people who go to watch a rugby match expect to see rugby being played. If they are going to watch a punch-up then they should really go and watch a boxing match.

    Also, those that play rugby generally play it because they enjoy playing rugby. If they enjoy a good punch-up then they should take up boxing.

    Rugby is hard enough without thuggery being involved.

    What a great advert for the game, 2 of our top players having a fight in front of the cameras. Right that they were sent off.

  • Comment number 16.

    I think at most it deserved a yellow card. Tempers will boil over in the occasional game due to it being such a high impact sport with adrenaline pumping through the body, that I can accept. What I didn't like about the incident happened after the game, when some fans were saying its good to have some niggle and aggression. I'm all for physical rugby and feel that rucking should be brought back to sort out the issue of players not rolling away at a ruck. Personally, I think these fans just talk about the niggle to try and act hard.

  • Comment number 17.

    I am of the opinion that a smack on the jaw is a learning curve and as such is part of the game. If caught by the refs and TMO's then the culprits deserve to go but if like Fusaro and McLeod you can shake hands after it then great. Rugby is a game played on a metaphorical knife edge and tempers do fray; emotions do spill over in the heat of the moment so I say, if caught then tough luck but if you get away with it then what goes round comes round and you'll be on the receiving end at some stage yourself.

    If the beaks were to reintroduce rucking I believe there would be less punching incidents as steam could be let off legally. As for mothers worried about their ''little Giles'' getting hurt...get real it's a mans game and if we are worried about attracting softies in to the sport rather than breeding tough mach men it's time to pack up for good and go watch footballers diving around and feigning injuries.

    I suffered several injuries including 2 broken noses in my time in the game. One of them was in a right good scrap in the old division 3 where if I am honest then I'd say I deserved it for, slowing the ball down shall we say. Both the ref and my own Captain pointed out to me that I deserved it.. Sensible refereeing I say.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think it must be realised that given the type of physicality involved in rugby, and the mix of determination and bravery, tempers are going to boil over and punches thrown. If two players are just having a row, then wait for it to calm down and deal accordingly, not blindly. There's a saying in football after a rash challenge - "if he did that in the street, he'd be done for assault". If you had rugby tackled someone in the street, or rucked them you'd be lifted.

    With every team I've been involved in, every row that erupts usually involves both team walking towards the action and ushering both players away rather than having everyone steam in to put their tuppence worth in. The two lads will sort it out and calm down, the ref reminds them it's a game of rugby and not a boxing match, two players shake and get on with it. And to be fair, I can apply that to one or two incidents on the training field too.

    IT all comes down to two words - common sense. unfortunately, the more professionalised the sport gets, the beauroctric it gets too, and theses gray areas will become just like raking in the rucks... history!

  • Comment number 19.

    I remember your punches John. And knees. And rucking. And late tackling.

    I say better to have ,full on comittment to the game than soulless avoidance of contact for fear of being financially penalised.

    A bit like listening to manufactured boy bands as opposed to The Who,
    (live at Leeds) - which just happened to be in my stocking a few days back. One is trite - the other full blooded, passionate, loud and real. I know which one I prefer.

  • Comment number 20.

    There's a difference between two players getting het up and having a set to where nobody gets hurt and the passion has boiled over which is fine to me as a one off but if the same guy is doing it over and over then sanctions are needed.
    The real problem is the punches in the ruck or maul because they are one-sided and intended to cause damage and that's more of a scourge on the game than a few punches that Ricky Hatton wouldn't react to even if he was asleep.

  • Comment number 21.

    Last night’s game.

    Poor refereeing, not as poor as Monday's game. I would like the referee explain the reason for the penalty against No 18 of Glasgow!!!! I recorded it last night and watched over and over again, can't figure it out. Only thing that comes to mind is "homer".

    Moffat should be a shamed of himself and his player’s tactics. Off the ball tackles, playing the ball on the ground, not rolling away, etc.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.


    I have to confess at the outset that I have never played the game of rugby. Sadly, in my day, girlies were not allowed to play "boys" sports such as rugby, football and cricket - we were restricted to hitting each other with hockey sticks!! Another blog for another day perhaps...! My only experience of the game, therefore, is as a spectator for over 50 years, watching at every level - from my big brother playing for his school, to club matches and Test matches.

    To those who post in favour of football's attitude to punching and red cards, before you get too sanctimonious, may I say two things:

    - football is meant to have no contact whatsoever, yet the number of broken legs suffered by football players would seem to suggest that the rules are not properly enforced by referees - except, that is, when accompanied by the unedifying sight of "playing dead" followed by a miraculous recovery when a yellow or red card is "awarded" for the performance;

    - the even more unedifying sight of footballers screaming, bulging eyed, at each other and at the referee hardly provides good role models.

    To those who post in favour of a jolly good punch up as, at least, it shows the players have a passion for the game which goes beyond receiving their wages, may I say that such an attitude belongs in the past and should remain there - to misquote Flower of Scotland.

    When England won RWC in 2003, rugby (all too briefly) received a lot of media attention throughout the UK. A recurring theme was that mums and dads were encouranging their kids to take up rugby rather than football because, whilst the game inherently involves aggression and contact, it works because it also requires self-discipline and respect for referees and other players.

    The legal point some have referred to revolves around the issue of consent. If you take up a sport such as boxing, you have implicitly consented to be punched (above the waist). If you take up a sport such as rugby or football, where punching is against the laws of the game, you have not consented to be punched.

    I have a lot of sympathy for the view that referees should be allowed to use their discretion and apply common sense, generally - especially if it helps keep the game flowing. However, punching is potentially life threatening and is against the laws of rugby and referees should penalise it according to the laws. Contact should be reserved for legal tackling, not punching.

    Thanks anyway John for provoking a good debate. Sorry for being long winded and a bit late at the party - it's been a long Hogmanay weekend!

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 25.

    John John John, sit on the fence why don't you..... Do you ever give your personal thoughts out or are you contracted into the wishy washy thoughts the SRU would like you to say ??? It's a punch! A penalty awarded and the referee and his officials decision whether a red card should be awarded. I've seen hundreds of punches with varying degree's of severity from a slap to unprovoked thuggery. All should be dealt with on the day by video / match officials. Make your next blog on something that really matters like "How many SRU academy players are actually playing rugby week in week out and to date how many have matured to full time pro's????" Your Melrose chum had two academy player's in his team against Esher yesterday. The lock played well but was at sixes and sevens trying control his eagerness along with the lack of live playing time. The winger was out his depth and lacked confidence. What's your take on it ?

  • Comment number 26.

    Come on John, you talk quite rightly about the effect pro behaviours will have on youngsters involved in or entering the game...
    What signal does it send if we condone punching? What effect will it have on youngsters entering the game?
    Rugby is, and always has been, a robust sport and as a result is under pressure from an increasingly 'nannied' and litigious society, the last thing we need is to allow actions that stop youngsters entering the sport, send out poor messages to them, and cry out for civil or crimiminal litigation!
    A punch should result in a sending off and at least a months ban - no excuses!

  • Comment number 27.

    Discussing this with my 15 year old embtyo front row son. He is as mild mannered as they come and, as far as I know has never had an off field fight but has both been punched and lashed out on the pitch.
    His take on the Mcleod, Cross, Fusaro ruckuss was that it was dealt with pretty fairly (in view of the lineout shambles at Murrayfield on Sunday Edinburgh came out badly).
    As far as 15 year olds fighting he blamed much of it on the refereeing of the ruck. It appears to be quite legal for the team in possession to send a couple of divers in front of the ball. Their bodies become a focus for irritation.

  • Comment number 28.


    I'm still playing so I'm allowed to comment.

    I don't care what the sissy football players/referees or liberal namby-pampies say: we play RUGBY. We are a different breed from other sportsmen and women. If we get knocked down, we get back up - everytime. No rolling about greetin' for us. We secretly revel in the fact that we can go into work on Monday and tell tales of brutality while the footbalists can sheepishly say they 'got kicked on the ankle... twice'.

    I've been playing fifteen years now and punching is still a part of the game and as far as I can see will still be for a while to come. Fortunately the ref's we get still apply a reasonable level of common sense.

    As for mothers not wanting there sons or daughters to get punched then the answer is simple: they can play in the backs with the rest of the softies.

  • Comment number 29.

    My dear, deluded Dude, what a picture you paint of jolly, sporting men swapping punches as easily as one would swop post match banter, therefore I surmise the following

    1, I doubt you've ever been punched hard.

    2, I doubt even more you've had your nose or jaw or cheekbone broke by a punch.

    3, One of Rugby's worst traits is to accept punching from the side as somehow acceptable. Yet then tut, tutting at others who punch out with the "sporting parameters of Rugby".

    From a career amateur footballer, who happens to like Rugby but is not keen on being punched by guys who are generally unwilling to front up first before attempting this.

  • Comment number 30.

    Miss Jean Brodie,

    "career amateur": oxymoron.

    Nuff said.

  • Comment number 31.


    I still play - incorporating school, uni and now, I have played for over 20 years. I played second row at youth then moved to the back row blindside as I stopped growing at 6:3 and to be a competitive second row at my level you must be in excess of 6:5 - my point is - I'm not one of your a fore mentioned "softies"..

    I agree with you regarding rugby being an aggressive sport - and handbags should be ignored by the ref, however, condoning punching and embracing it as "part of our game" only highlights to me that you must be mince at the game... My experience has shown me that people only punch when they are frustrated - people only get frustrated when they are getting run ragged by an opposing player.. If your a good forward your to busy breaking the line or hitting a ruck to even think about throwing a punch.

  • Comment number 32.

    Fao Marcus Fenix

    1, I've also love and admire the physicality and competitiveness of Rugby when applied properly. Not the punching or head butting or gouging around the head. Am i that wrong to find that type of conduct cowardly?

    Just played football instead of Rugby and still would have been a career amateur!

    2, And the Blogger that is JB, ex Lion/Scotland/West/G/Accies/Heriots was also a "career amateur". Maybe use your fists of steel and iron to get your foot out of your mouth? And also go and read the hilarious story about when JB "thought" he was about to ruffle up Maurice Colclough and instead found Wade Dooley there instead- now that is funny!

    3, And my son, when watching "Rugby's hard men, hit out when the other guys are not looking" never fails to remind me of the 20 stone prop knocked out by a single punch by a 5ft 9" 11 stone football player who was also a bit of a boxer not that long ago.

  • Comment number 33.


    If you are going to quote me then quote me accurately. I said "part of the game". I know it's trivial but lets start with the basics.

    Along the same lines. If you hadn't spent so much time playing at an awesome level of rugby at school and uni you'd have learnt the difference between "your" and "you're".

    Between you and I, I am half decent player with multiple player of the year tropies to back it up, albeit from lowly Premier 3 and National teams. (One of them was even presented to me by the legend who pens this blog)

    Coming back to the topic in hand. I have to agree with you that a large percentage of the punching I've witnessed, especially further down the leagues, has been as a result of frustration but I've also seen it effectively used, used it, and had it used against me to disrupt a player's game. I'll nail my colours to the mast and answer the blog's question: One punch should not be a red card offence and it seems the IRB agree with me.

  • Comment number 34.

    Fao Marcus

    your/ you're? Did run it past Spell check- apols. Then again too many punches throughout an averagely "awesome" career has dulled my grammatical discipline.

    I also got a 6 month suspension way back in 1990 for punching a guy who head butted me!

    I do also agree "hand bag style, front on punching" should be a Yellow Card offence.

    And did laugh at the Miss Jean Brodie reference too. And enjoy your Rugby this weekend!

  • Comment number 35.

    can't agree too much with blindside warrior in the days when I played if someone was trying it on for a bir of fisty cuffs then they weren't paying enough attention to the game and usually cost there team mates by giving away possesion and territory.

    Anyway in thoses days you could ruck each other and i never threw a punch till i was tired standing on my opponent!!


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