Television commentators with northern hemisphere accents were incredulous Welsh captain Sam Warburton was sent off in the 2011 World Cup semifinal.

They were still arguing about the merits of him being sinbinned when they realised referee Alain Rolland had produced his red card.

The 22-year-old skipper had upended French wing Vincent Clerc and dumped him on his neck and shoulders rather than lowering him carefully to the Eden Park turf. In today's climate, the decision to send him off would not have been disputed but four years ago the game was still churning through those rulings.

Welsh lock Huw Richards was the first of the 16 players sent off in RWC history in 1987 when he attacked the All Blacks in a semifinal in Sydney and Warburton re-enacted history in their latest semifinal tilt.


While there were widespread accusations Warburton's punishment was too harsh, the flanker accepted the referee had made the right decision in Wales extra-painful 9-8 defeat.

"The IRB said if you lift up a player and drop him it's a red card, and that's exactly what I did," he said. ""I can't complain. There was no point in appealing against it and I didn't have a leg to stand on really."

"I felt like as soon as it hit him his bodyweight took control of what happened."
It was Warburton's first red card in his short career and that contributed to some of his initial shock then disappointment.

"If I had to do it all over again I would do the same thing," said Rolland. "The important part for referees is to take the emotion out of it."

"We can only officiate on the action itself and what he did merited what happened next because it was dangerous," Rolland told the Western Mail.

It was not his job to rule on intent, he was asked to judge actions as they unfolded. What happened left him with no alternative.