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

UPDATED: This article builds on an original article from 15/02/2021

In 755 Welsh Test matches since 1881, 16 players have been dismissed when facing Wales. Six of these sending offs happened in 2021.

The first six dismissals of a Welsh opponent occurred between 1888 and 2006 (it was not possible to be dismissed between 1881 and 1887), showing how much stricter the officiating of the game has become in recent years.

Stuart Hogg red card

The first time an opponent got their marching order against the Dragons was in 1977. It was Wales’s 315th Test match.

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 off in disgrace for an early shower.

Prior to the extraordinary back-to-back red card sequence in the 2021 Six Nations, 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 16 sending offs: 

  • Wales have won 12, drawn one and lost three out of the 16 games against 14 men (updated at 20:46)
  • Only three of the sending offs occurred in the amateur era.
  • Wales have benefitted from six sendings off in 2021 alone. From 1888 to 2006 was how long it took for the first six opponents to be dismissed against Wales.
  • Referee Fred Howard, Jerome Garces and Matt Carley have all 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.
  • Ten of the sending offs happened in Cardiff, two were in World Cups on neutral ground and four were in away games.
  • Eleven of the cards were given against players from traditional Tier 1 nations.
  • Twice in 2021, players have been dismissed in consecutive games against Wales.
  • Both times Australia have had a player sent off against Wales (both in the first half), Wales have won in the dying moments.

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. When we originally wrote this article, this was the only time Wales’s had benefitted from a red card in two consecutive games. It happened again in Autumn 2021 (see below).

MATCH 748: France 32 Wales 30 (2021)

Venue: Paris 

Tournament: Six Nations

Player sent off: Paul Willemse

Reason: Contact with an opponent’s eye

Referee: Luke Pearce (England)

Prop Paul Willemse was dismissed in the 68th minute for contact with the eyes of Wyn Jones. France also saw yellow, but Wales picked up two yellows of their own and ended up falling in dramatic fashion in the final play of the match to lose a Grand Slam (but they did still win the Championship).

The red card meant three of Wales’s five opponents had seen a player dismissed in a single tournament.

MATCH 750: Wales 20 Argentina 20 (2021)

Venue: Cardiff 

Tournament: Test series

Player sent off: Juan Cruz Mallia

Reason: Dangerous tackle (contact with head)

Referee: Matt Carley (England)

Matt Carley again sent off a Welsh opponent, but it didn’t stop the Pumas from holding on for a draw (they would go on to win the series against a Welsh team missing their Lions). Juan Cruz Mallia was carded for this tackle on Kieran Hardy in the 29th minute.

Both sides also suffered a yellow card.

MATCH 754: Wales 38 Fiji 23 (2021)

Venue: Cardiff 

Tournament: Autumn Tests

Player sent off: Eroni Sau

Reason: Dangerous tackle (contact with head)

Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)

Eroni Sau 25th minute foul probably cost his side a famous win as Wales barely got over the line against a Fiji team who also had two yellow cards, meaning they played 20 minutes with just 13 men. Fiji still almost won it. The scoreline was distorted by a couple of late scores.

MATCH 755: Wales 29 Australia 28 (2021)

Venue: Cardiff 

Tournament: Autumn Tests

Player sent off: Rob Valetini

Reason: Dangerous tackle (contact with head)

Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)

Once again, Wales benefited from a red card from their opponents in two consecutive games. Australian number eight Rob Valetini sent off for a head clash with lanky Welsh second row Adam Beard. Beard left the field concussed. Shortly after, Oz full-back Kurtley Beale saw yellow for an intentional knock on.

In the second-half Wales picked up a yellow of their own, which Australia immediately took advantage of to claw back from 23-13 to eventually take the lead later in the game. Wales, however, won with the final kick of the match.

This made it the sixth red card for an opponent in the Wayne Pivac era (with all six coming in 2021). The first six sending offs against Wales took place between 1881 and 2006.

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