Shades of Red: A brief history of Wales playing only fourteen men

Wales’s 2021 Six Nations has begun in a somewhat bizarre fashion, with both their opening opponents getting reduced to fourteen men after red cards. This is the first time in Wales’s history they’ve benefited in consecutive matches from playing against a team permanently reduced to 14 men.

In 745 Welsh Test matches since 1881, 12 players have been dismissed when facing Wales. Wales, in contrast, have seen eight players ordered to leave the field and not return. The use of an actual red card is a relatively new development in rugby. Until the late 1990s a referee’s pointing finger was the signal for a player to trudge in disgrace for an early shower.

Stuart Hogg red card

It has been possible for a player to be sent from the field in rugby since 1888. The first time an opponent got their marching order against the Dragons was in 1977. It was Wales’s 315th Test match. 

Prior to this month’s extraordinary back-to-back red card sequence, the previous shortest gap between opponents’ playing with 14 men was between 2005 and 2006 – where Wales benefitted from a South African red card, then after just two games against full strength sides, Scotland lost a man in Cardiff. 

Here are some interesting stats about the 12 sending offs: 

  • Wales have won ten out of the 12 games against 14 men.
  • Only three of the sending offs occured in the amateur era.
  • Referee Fred Howard and Jerome Garces both dismissed two players against Wales (Howard also once sent off a Welsh player too).
  • Scotland have had three players dismissed against Wales.
  • Ian Gough of Wales was twice the player on the receiving end of an act that saw a player dismissed.
  • Seven of the sending offs happened in Cardiff, two were in World Cups on neutral ground and three were in away games.
  • Nine of the cards were given against players from traditional Tier 1 nations.

Below are the details of each time Wales’s opponents have seen a player dismissed.

MATCH 315: Wales 25 Ireland 9 (1977)

Venue: Cardiff 

Tournament: Five Nations

Player sent off: Willie Duggan

Reason: Fighting

Referee: Norman Sanson (Scotland)

This is the only time Wales and their opponents both had players sent off in the same match. Geoff Wheel was dismissed for fighting with Ireland’s Willie Duggan. This was also the first time players had ever been sent off in a Championship game.

MATCH 375: Wales 22 Australia 21 (1987)

Venue: Rotorua (New Zealand)

Tournament: World Cup

Player sent off: David Codey

Reason: Stamping

Referee: Fred Howard (England)

Australian Flanker David Codey was sent off in the first five minutes. Wales still needed an injury time try and famous Paul Thorburn conversion to win it. 

MATCH 394: Namibia 9 Wales 18 (1990)

Venue: Windhoek

Tournament: Tour

Player sent off: Andre Stoop

Reason: Headbutt 

Referee: Fred Howard (England)

Fred Howard again sent off a Welsh opponent. Andre Stoop, a full-back, butted Cardiff’s Steve Ford. Howard had also sent off Welsh second row Kevin Moseley earlier in the year in Cardiff against France.


MATCH 505: Wales 51 Tonga 7 (2001)

Venue: Cardiff

Tournament: Autumn Tests

Player sent off: Gus Leger

Reason: Stamping

Referee: Rob Dickson (Scotland)

Wales’s Ian Gough was the victim of a head stamp from Tonga’s Gus Leger, who received a five match ban.


MATCH 555: Wales 16 South Africa 33 (2005)

Venue: Cardiff

Tournament: Autumn Tests

Player sent off: Percy Montgomery

Reason: Two yellow cards (dangerous tackles) 

Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)

Percy Montgomery was playing domestic rugby with the Dragons at the time of his sending off. 


MATCH 558: Wales 28 Scotland 18 (2006)

Venue: Cardiff

Tournament: Six Nations

Player sent off: Scott Murray

Reason: Kicking 

Referee: Steve Walsh (New Zealand)

Wales’s Ian Gough was again the player on the end of someone’s boot. 

MATCH 662: Wales 51 Scotland 3 (2014)

Venue: Cardiff

Tournament: Six Nations

Player sent off: Stuart Hogg

Reason: Late/dangerous tackle 

Referee: Jerome Garces (France)

Stuart Hogg’s late and dangerous hit on Dan Biggar after a kick was initially a yellow card. Upon reviewing the incident, Jerome Garces changed it to red.

MATCH 666: Wales 17 Fiji 13 (2014)

Venue: Cardiff

Tournament: Autumn Tests

Player sent off: Campese Ma’afu

Reason: Two yellows (first for collapsing a maul, second for a tackle in the air)

Referee: Jerome Garces (France)

Jerome Garces sent off his second player in Cardiff in a calendar year. Wales barely hung on to win, despite the extra man.

MATCH 731: Wales 20 France 19 (2019)

Venue: Oita (Japan)

Tournament: World Cup

Player sent off: Sebastien Vahaamahina

Reason: Elbow

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)

Sebastien Vahaamahina’s inexplicable assault on Aaron Wainwright cost France dearly and helped Wales to a semi-final spot.

MATCH 737: England 33 Wales 30 (2020)

Venue: London

Tournament: Six Nations

Player sent off: Manu Tuilagi

Reason: Dangerous tackle

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)

Ex-England scrum-half Matt Dawson said after Manu Tuilagi’s red card for a tackle on George North: “If that was a World Cup final, I don’t believe Manu Tuilagi gets sent off.” 

MATCH 744: Wales 21 Ireland 16 (2021)

Venue: Cardiff

Tournament: Six Nations

Player sent off: Peter O’Mahony

Reason: Reckless contact to the head

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

Despite a 14th minute red card for Peter O’Mahony, Wales were in danger of losing this game until the final minute.

MATCH 745: Scotland 24 Wales 25 (2021)

Venue: Edinburgh 

Tournament: Six Nations

Player sent off: Zander Fagerson

Reason: Reckless contact to the head

Referee: Matt Carley (England)

For the second consecutive match a Welsh opponent was dismissed for dangerous contact to the head.

Order your copy of An Illustrated History of Welsh Rugby: Fun, Facts and Stories from 140 Years of International Rugby here. The main image of Graham Henry for this article is by Raluca Moldovan and taken from the aforementioned book.