Italy's Andrea Lovotti is shown a red card by referee Wayne Barnes. Picture: REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

On paper, this is already the filthiest World Cup ever and we have only completed three rounds, but are the players really that ill-disciplined or are they simply failing to adapt to World Rugby’s draconian clampdown on high tackles?

On Saturday, the red card referee Nigel Owens showed Argentina lock Tomas Lavanini in the match against England was the fifth in 25 matches so far, pushing the 2019 red card record past the 1999 and 1995 tallies of four.

Just two were handed out in the 1987, 1991, 2007 and 2011 events; one in 2015; and none in 2003.

Given how trigger happy the match officials are — they are under enormous pressure from World Rugby to eliminate dangerous tackles— we are going to see a whole lot more card-waving from the referees over the 22 matches still to come.

On Sunday, All Blacks props Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi were yellow carded in New Zealand's Pool B victory over Namibia in Tokyo for high tackles.

Laulala smashed into wing Lesley Kim, while Tuungafasi  hammered Darryl de la Harpe. The only reason the pair evaded red is because both Namibians were ducking into the tackles, thus providing extenuating circumstances for the New Zealanders.

The first red card of the tournament went to American flanker John Quill for a shoulder charge to the head of England’s Owen Farrell.

The fifth one also involved Farrell after lock Lavinini went in high on the centre and connected with the head. As a non-Englishman, I did not see intent from Lavinini, who did not lead with the shoulders and he made an attempt to wrap his arms around Farrell, but in line with the World Rugby clampdown, connect with the head and you’re dead.

I don’t think I am the only one seeing the irony of Farrell — one of the game’s worst dangerous tacklers (yet he never gets punished) — being on the receiving end of red-card offenders.

Against South Africa, Italian prop Andrea Lovotti was red carded for a spear tackle on No 8 Duane Vermuelen; Samoa wing Ed Fidow received two yellow cards against Scotland which amounted to a red; and Uruguay prop Facundo Gattas was sent off against Georgia for a shoulder to the head of Shalva Sutiashvili.

A point to consider ... if one of today’s referees (under current instructions) reffed the Springboks vs Samoan quarter-final at the 1995 World Cup, for example, most of the team would have been sent off.

I think the reason why there are so many high tackles in the modern game is because players today are coached to go in at chest level to body check the ball carrier and prevent him from offloading.

When the game went professional, one of the first developments was to bring in Rugby League defence coaches such as hard men Andy Farrell (none other than Owen’s dad!) and Shaun Edwards, still the defence coach of Wales.

Out went the olden day prescription of tackling around the ankles and in came the high hitting.

IOL Sport