Red mist descends on Cardiff

Picture: Getty Images

SCOTT Murray faces an agonising wait to find out if he has any future in this year's RBS Six Nations Championship after becoming the second Scottish player to be sent off in Test rugby in yesterday's 28-18 defeat against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

Nathan Hines, Murray's former Edinburgh team-mate, was the first to suffer the ignominy of a red card, for punching against the USA on the 2002 tour. Murray kicked Ian Gough after being late-tackled by the Welsh lock forward in yesterday's match and Steve Walsh, the New Zealand referee, did not hesitate in showing a straight red card for what he deemed to be retaliation. Gough returned to the fray after ten minutes in the sin-bin, after suffering what appeared to be a minor cut on his head.

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As he was shown the red card, Murray made a point of telling the referee before he left the pitch: "I didn't mean to kick him - it was a mistake."

Last night, Murray added: "I am not a dirty player. The incident in today's game was a complete accident and I would never intend to injure an opponent in that way. I apologised to Ian and the referee immediately I had realised what had happened.

"I will now be liaising with the team management as they look at the incident and determine our position for the disciplinary hearing."

That hearing is expected to take place this week. Scotland will argue that the red card he received was punishment enough, pleading that it was an accidental clash while Murray was trying to free himself from Gough, and not a deliberate kick. If successful, he could be cleared to play against England in the Calcutta Cup on 25 February, but if not he faces a suspension of between six and eight weeks. Such a ban would end his involvement in a championship in which he was due to equal Gordon Bulloch's tally of 75 caps, the record for a Scotland forward, and conclude his incredible run as the only ever-present in the entire Six Nations Championship.

His team-mates and even Gareth Thomas, the Wales captain, leapt to his defence afterwards, insisting that Murray was not capable of kicking a player deliberately. Murray should perhaps take Thomas into his hearing. There was no denying the fact, however, that it was a costly error on the part of the experienced lock and probably cost Scotland the chance of back-to-back championship wins for the first time in five years.

Frank Hadden, the Scotland coach, said: "We know Scott's not a dirty player - he's very hard, very fair - and he is very disappointed with the outcome. I have only seen it from one angle, but it was a late tackle by Ian Gough, well after the ball, and Scott is trying to get out of the tackle situation as quickly as he can, and flicks out his foot. He is not actually looking in Gough's direction at the time.

"As soon as the alleged incident took place Scott was extremely remorseful and it was disappointing that the incident took place at that juncture. I don't want to make a judgment, but it is something we will be discussing in detail now."

Hadden added: "I thought it was an extremely gutsy effort [from Scotland] with no shortage of commitment again. Despite the circumstances with the sending off, we created enough chances to make it extremely close at the finish, but it wasn't to be. The Welsh were a bit more clinical when the chances came along. It was a great match, very fast and extremely exciting for the supporters, but obviously the critical incident was the sending off."

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Thomas stated: "I think it's important we don't judge him on it. Everyone sees red on the rugby field. He is a great bloke and he apologised straight away. He regretted what he'd done and it takes a man to apologise on the field. It's kind of disappointing really because you want the best 22 on the field for each team in such a big game, but it hasn't taken the gloss off the win for us."

The two camps tried to play down the significance of the red card, Wales insisting that they won the game with their scrum dominance and superior finishing and Hadden pointing to the fact that his side made enough line-breaks to score a clutch of tries, but dropped too many passes to make them count this week.

Chris Paterson followed suit, but said that the extra hurdle of having Murray off the field made the demands of an already fast-paced game interminable. He said: "Scott is hurting and the guys are hurting with him - we're 100 per cent behind him.

You have to make the best of what you get in rugby and I think we did that and there's a certain pride you can take from the finish. It means now the pressure's off and there's none of this stupid talk of Grand Slams."

Hadden added: "When you travel away from home you have to get everything spot-on. It's not impossible, but it's difficult playing away from home and we made too many errors. But I think the quality of rugby we're seeing at the moment is absolutely breathtaking and it leads to really exciting games. I'm not unhappy with where this young side is at the moment.

"Obviously, we wanted to come down here and win and set up a good occasion with England in two weeks' time, but I'm pretty sure the English side will not be complacent about their trip to Murrayfield."