Every step of the Sio Tomkinson red card case has been perplexing.

In real time, his collision with Brodie Retallick didn't seem unusual and the minimal slow-motion footage didn't alter that view.

But with the star All Black prone on the pitch then taken off, the rookie Highlanders' centre was shown his exit card from experienced referee Glen Jackson for using his shoulder to the head of the Chiefs lock.

After a long delay, that decision has been overturned by a judicial committee who said the contact was shoulder to shoulder without any breach of the laws. Reaction to the unsatisfactory episode has been muted, perhaps because the Highlanders got up to win.

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But consider this: Had the roles been reversed in a crucial World Cup playoff match and Retallick had clocked Tomkinson, all hell would have broken loose.

Everyone from the referee and television match official (TMO) to a judicial committee eventually reaching a not guilty decision would have been raked over in a constant stream of headline stories and criticism.

If the All Blacks had been beaten, which happens regularly when a side is a man down, the blame game and howls of protest would have soared when the decision was overturned.

All Blacks star and Chiefs co-captain Brodie Retallick leaves the field after colliding with Sio Tomkinson. Photo / Photosport
All Blacks star and Chiefs co-captain Brodie Retallick leaves the field after colliding with Sio Tomkinson. Photo / Photosport

But in rookie Tomkinson's case there was hardly a ripple even though the delayed hearing probably cost him a place in the Highlanders' group to play the Reds tonight in Dunedin.

Foul play deserves punishment with either a sinbin or red card but when there is enough doubt, referees need to be conservative in their judgment.

Repeat offsides, ruck or scrum infringements are dealt with by team warnings and accepted as part of the modern game.

The Blues felt that bite when referee Nick Briant hit them with two penalty tries for scrum failures inside their 22 as the Crusaders raised their tempo.

But when evidence on a big screen is not sharp and discussions between the referees, assistants and TMO falls into a similar bracket, players should get the benefit of the doubt.

For those who sense conspiracy, they will pick referee Jackson's ruling as part of a stay tough policy which will carry through the World Cup later this year in Japan.

Jackson is at the top of his game and on reflection, as he does in weekly consultation with referees boss Bryce Lawrence and others, will likely concede his red card decision was too heavy.

There was no malice involved. These things happen to players and officials in all sport.

The trick is to minimise the controversies in a complex game and unless there is some intervening mishap, Jackson will continue to be a top whistler in Super Rugby and at that global tournament.