The Dan Evans red-card row, what happens next and the fresh Six Nations worry for Wales

The Ospreys are still without a win in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup after going down 40-19 at home to Racing 92 in a match that saw Dan Evans receive one of the quickest red cards in professional rugby union history. Frank Murphy’s decision to dismiss Evans[1] in the first minute overshadowed all else in Swansea. And it prompted a lively debate about whether the call was the right one.

The 14-man hosts were never going to win after Evans’ exit but they did rally after the break and showed there’s nothing wrong with their spirit. MARK ORDERS assesses the main talking points…   SEEING RED AND ALL THAT

The Ospreys might not be  a complaint-free zone this season, with the media copping it at a recent press conference and the region’s repeated ill-luck with injuries presumably driving all concerned at Llandarcy to distraction. But one thing they were not going to moan about was the red card handed to Evans after just 37 seconds against Racing. Whether that stance changes after scrutiny of the match tape remains to be seen.

But immediately after the game coach Carl Hogg opted not to make a fuss over referee Murphy’s decision to send off Evans after the full-back’s boot made contact with visiting wing Teddy Thomas’ face as the Wales international jumped to claim a high ball. “I think it was unintentional,” said Hogg. “But nowadays any contact to the head and the player is going to be in trouble.

“Clearly, when you get as many red and yellow cards, discipline is an issue.”

Referee Frank Murphy issues a red card to Ospreys player Dan Evans (out of picture)

The Ospreys also had Scott Williams and Aled Davies sin-binned and were down to 12 men at one point against one of the most potent back divisions in Europe. But the big talking point was the incident that saw Evans pointed to the dressing room before some spectators had even settled in their seats. It ruined the game — of course it did.

But Irish official Murphy was in no doubt the offence merited the ultimate sanction. As he watched the replay on the big screen, he said: “We have direct contact to the face. “The catcher lifts his foot as he catches it, so it’s a reflex action and not deliberate.

“But it’s still direct contact to the face with the boot, so we still have to go red card.” He also factored player safety into his deliberations. The former Munster, Leicester and Connacht player then told Evans: “It’s going to be a red.

The action was reckless. That was the issue.” Opinion was split on the call, with many on social media agreeing but a number of current and past players strongly taking issue with it.  

Wales full-back Liam Williams tweeted: “Shambles! He’s trying to regain balance in the air!” Tom Shanklin concurred, while Matthew J. Waktins lamented that the game had gone “crazy”.  

And in commentary on BT Sport, Sam Warburton also considered the decision overly severe. “I would  be very, very disappointed if I was Dan Lydiate as captain,” said Warburton. “You are coached to lift your leg up to defend yourself when you collect high balls.

“That’s just an unfortunate circumstance. “Dan wasn’t looking to hit Teddy Thomas in the face and deliberately go for his chin. “He looked away to protect the ball.

“I think that’s very harsh.” The assumption is that Evans will argue that he was trying to maintain his balance while turning to regather the ball after it initially slipped from his grasp. Intent?

Well, let’s put it this way: It remains highly improbable that, more than 300 games into his senior career, the 31-year-old made a conscious decision to borrow from Bruce Lee’s playbook. That doesn’t put him in the clear. The issue the disciplinary panel will need to assess is whether he acted recklessly, as Murphy ruled, or whether his action was unavoidable given what he was trying to do at the time and the way he landed.

Either way, it was one of the quickest red cards in the history of professional rugby union.    WATKIN WORRY

The Dan Evans red-card row, what happens next and the fresh Six Nations worry for WalesOwen Watkin of Ospreys receives medical attention

  As if the Ospreys don’t have enough to worry about without seeing their injury list lengthen yet again.

Centre Owen Watkin limped off after just 17 minutes, with coach Hogg saying: “He has an issue with his knee. “I haven’t had a full assessment yet. We’ll see where it stands on Sunday or Monday.”

With Jonathan Davies a long-haul casualty after knee surgery, Watkin’s injury will be a concern for Wayne Pivac ahead of the Six Nations. Centre isn’t an area where Wales have a lot of depth, especially without Davies. That said, Pivac might have noted another encouraging effort from Scott Williams as he continues to battle back to form and fitness.

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NO WHITE FLAG

It’s no cause to be putting out the bunting, with a ninth defeat in 10 matches this term, but the Ospreys showed against Racing they still understand the meaning of the word ‘fight’. They had to play pretty much the whole game against high-quality opposition with 14 men and looked as if they could finish with seriously red faces when leaving the field 28-7 down at half-time. But the points were shared at 12 apiece in the second period, with the hosts enjoying more of the possession and territory.

No cause for wild celebrations, then, but a team can build on stuff like that. Scrum-half Aled Davies had a fine game, probing and trying to up the tempo, while the Ospreys scrummaged effectively and had a hard-working back row in Dan Lydiate, Olly Cracknell and Morgan Morris. Morris made more hits than anyone else on the field with 16, while he also beat seven defenders and covered 32 metres with ball in hand.

Throw in some quality work at the breakdown and a generous dash of pluck and you had another eye-catching effort from a young player who has yet to have a bad game for the Ospreys. The line-out remains an issue and Marty McKenzie will benefit from his first game but with Evans departing proceedings so early, it would have been hard for Mike Ruddock, in his consultancy role, to learn too much.

The Dan Evans red-card row, what happens next and the fresh Six Nations worry for Wales Video LoadingVideo UnavailableClick to play Tap to playThe video will start in 8Cancel

THE VAKATAWA FACTOR He can run 100 metres in 11.3 seconds and if he collided head on with a medium-sized truck the expectation might be that the said vehicle would come off second best.

Wales struggled to deal with Virimi Vakatawa at the Rugby World Cup and so did the Ospreys in Swansea. When they were down to 12 men for a brief period alarm bells seemed to ring out every time the official man of the match touched the ball.

The Dan Evans red-card row, what happens next and the fresh Six Nations worry for WalesVirimi Vakatawa had an outstanding game for Racing 92

He set up one score and would have claimed a touchdown himself had not Aled Davies illegally knocked down a pass from Simon Zebo. For his pains, Davies was yellow carded and Racing awarded a penalty try.   

But Vakatawa was superb. Indeed, Racing’s entire back division oozed menace, from Simon Zebo at 15 to Maxime Machenaud at nine. Next weekend in Paris promises to be another tough challenge for the Ospreys.

The temptation might be to rest players or hold them back for the Guinness PRO14 derby with Cardiff Blues on December 21, but they need to be careful because Racing are capable of inflicting serious embarrassment on an understrength team.

“We’ll look at resources and be sensible over the coming weeks,” said Hogg.

Wise words.

References

  1. ^ decision to dismiss Evans (www.walesonline.co.uk)

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