Getting a red card at the Rugby World Cup is one of the worst things you can do in a rugby career. It is absolutely the worst thing to do at the biggest tournament in Rugby. So at which tournament has there been the worst discipline.
What is the most red cards in a Rugby World Cup? The 2019 Rugby World Cup was the worst for discipline, with eight red cards handed out across the entire tournament. That is by far the most in a single tournament. This beat the previous record of 4, set at both the 1995 and 1995 editions of the Rugby World Cup. Ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, there had been only 25 red cards handed out since the tournament began in 1987.
Red cards are not massively common in rugby games. They are usually only given out for egregious acts of foul play or for two yellow cards. But in recent years, red cards have become a lot more common as the game is trying to become safer. Which is why it is no surprise that the most recent edition, the 2019 tournament, was the one with the most red cards.
In total, there were eight red cards at that tournament, doubling the previous record which had been set by the 1995 and the 1999 Rugby World Cups. Eight different nations received a red card throughout the tournament, with seven of the red cards coming in the pool stage and just the one in the knockouts.
It showed that in World Rugby making changes to make the game safer, there were going to be more red cards in the game. It is the same reason for why the 2023 Rugby World Cup could overtake that record of eight red cards. There have been three red cards in the first two weeks of the tournament, so breaking the record of eight across the tournament is likely.
The off-field review system means it is more likely for red cards to be given out at the 2023 tournament, so that will likely soon become the Rugby World Cup that has had the most red cards.
What country has the most red cards at the Rugby World Cup?
Discipline is crucial to a team’s success at the Rugby World Cup, only one team has ever received more than 1 Red Card at the same Tournament. So having the record for the most red cards at Rugby World Cup’s, is no badge of honour. However one team has to have that record.
Canada holds the record for the most red cards at the Rugby World Cup in total, although they will not be adding to it at the 2023 edition as they failed to qualify for the first time since the tournament began. Canada are the record holders with four red cards in their 9 trips to the Rugby World Cup.
It doesn’t help that they are the only team in Rugby World Cup history to have had two red cards at the same tournament. In 1995, Canada had an incredibly difficult pool stage where they faced hosts South Africa as well as reigning world champions Australia.
In the game against the Springboks, Canada were on the wrong end of two red cards in the same game. The match is remembered as the Battle of Boet Erasmus because of how physical and dangerous the entire game was.
Tensions were incredibly high and they boiled over when Pieter Hendriks and Winston Stanley got into a scuffle and punches were thrown. It got even worse when fullback Scott Stewart got involved in the fight.
At the time, the referee knew that a lot of the players involved could not stay on the pitch. He sent off Canada’s captain Gareth Rees as well as Prop Rod Snow. Canada would go on to lose the game. Their third red card came four years later in a brutal game against Namibia.
Despite being massively ahead in the game, Canadian flanker Dan Baugh was sent off for standing on the head of a Namibian player. Canada improved their discipline over the next four tournaments as they did not receive a red card until the 2019 competition.
It was another pool stage game against South Africa which saw Canada break the record and become the all-time leaders in red cards at the Rugby World Cup. With Canada close to the Springboks try line, replacement lock Josh Larsen dove into the ruck with a tucked shoulder and made contact with the head of South African prop Thomas Du Toit’s head.
List of countries Rugby World Cup Red Card totals
Will the 2023 Rugby World Cup see any red card records broken?
As we approach halfway through the group stages of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France we have already seen 5 red cards. Some of them are significant.
The first red card of the tournament went to England’s Tom Curry as he was sent off the opening game against Argentina. This is England’s first ever red card at a world cup, despite featuring in all 9 previous tournaments.
New Zealand then had Ethan De Groot sent off against Namibia, which was the All Blacks first ever red card at a Rugby World Cup.
Portugal had winger Vincent Pinto sent off, continuing the trend and collecting the first red card Portugal had received in a World Cup Game.
Johan Deysel was sent off for Namibia against France becoming only the 3rd team captain to ever be shown a red during a Rugby World Cup game.
Finally, Tonga’s Vaea Fifitasaw Red against Scotland. This red card was significant in the fact that it was Tonga’s 4th red card in their World Cup History. This tied Canada’s record, as Tonga still have 3 games left in the tournament and Canada are at home, there is a chance that Tonga might pass Canada for the “honour” of most red cards in World Cup History before the tournament is over.
Given that we have already seen 5 Red Cards in group play and it is only half way through, it is likely that the record of 8 red cards set in 2019, will be broken in the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
What was the first red card at the Rugby World Cup?
The first red card in Rugby World Cup history shows just how much the game has changed in the history of the tournament.
Huw Richards was the unlucky man on the end of the very first red card in Rugby World Cup history. In the 1987 Rugby World Cup, home favourites New Zealand were facing off against Wales.
After a maul, Richards was elbowed by All Black Gary Whetton. In response, Richards punched Whetton and then was knocked to the floor by Whetton’s teammate Buck Shelford. When Richards was able to get back to his feet, it was Richards who was the first man to be red carded, despite being the loser of the fight.
Shelford and Whetton both escaped punishment and Richards became known as the man who received the first red card in Rugby World Cup history. It was certainly not a record that any player wants to have.
List of Red Cards At Rugby World Cups
|Rugby World Cup Red Cards; by player|
|1||Huw Richards||Lock||Wales||New Zealand||6–49||77′||14 June 1987|
|2||David Codey||Flanker||Australia||Wales||21–22||5′||18 June 1987|
|3||Pedro Sporleder||Lock||Argentina||Samoa||12–35||65′||13 October 1991|
|4||Mat Keenan||Lock||Samoa||Argentina||35–12||65′||13 October 1991|
|5||Feleti Mahoni||Flanker||Tonga||France||10–38||68′||26 May 1995|
|6||Gareth Rees||Fly-half (captain)||Canada||South Africa||0–20||70′||3 June 1995|
|7||Rod Snow||Prop||Canada||South Africa||0–20||70′||3 June 1995|
|8||James Dalton||Hooker||South Africa||Canada||20–0||70′||3 June 1995|
|9||Marika Vunibaka||Wing||Fiji||Canada||38–22||80’+||9 October 1999|
|10||Dan Baugh||Flanker||Canada||Namibia||72–11||48′||14 October 1999|
|11||Ngalu Taufo’ou||Prop||Tonga||England||10–101||35′||15 October 1999|
|12||Brendan Venter||Centre||South Africa||Uruguay||39–3||40′||15 October 1999|
|13||Hale T-Pole||Flanker||Tonga||Samoa||19–15||71′||16 September 2007|
|14||Jacques Nieuwenhuis||Number 8||Namibia||France||10–87||19′||16 September 2007|
|15||Paul Williams||Full-back||Samoa||South Africa||5–13||70′||30 September 2011|
|16||Sam Warburton||Flanker (captain)||Wales||France||8–9||17′||15 October 2011|
|17||Agustín Ormaechea||Scrum-half||Uruguay||Fiji||15–47||66′||6 October 2015|
|18||John Quill||Flanker||United States||England||7–45||70′||26 September 2019|
|19||Facundo Gattas||Prop||Uruguay||Georgia||7–33||78′||29 September 2019|
|20||Ed Fidow||Wing||Samoa||Scotland||0–34||75′||30 September 2019|
|21||Andrea Lovotti||Prop||Italy||South Africa||3–49||43′||4 October 2019|
|22||Tomas Lavanini||Lock||Argentina||England||10–39||17′||5 October 2019|
|23||Josh Larsen||Lock||Canada||South Africa||7–66||36′||8 October 2019|
|24||Bundee Aki||Centre||Ireland||Samoa||47–5||29′||12 October 2019|
|25||Sebastien Vahaamahina||Lock||France||Wales||19–20||50′||20 October 2019|
Which countries have never had a red card at the Rugby World Cup?
There have been a few countries in the past to have competed at every Rugby World Cup and yet escape without ever having been on the wrong end of a red card.
Japan and Scotland are the two teams to have been at every Rugby World Cup in the tournament’s history without getting a red card. Both teams have never received a red card despite playing in 10 Rugby World Cups to date. It is an incredibly impressive record that is still going on at the moment.
New Zealand and England were part of this group for a very long time. But both of them received a red card in the first two weeks of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Romania have also never received a red card at the Rugby World Cup, having only missed out on the 2019 tournament.
Most of the other teams who have never received a red card at the tournament have only been to a few Rugby World Cups.