[caption id="attachment_67371" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Irish ref Alain Rolland pictured before a game during the Rugby World Cup."][/caption]
IRISH referee Alain Rolland found himself at the centre of a storm following the Welsh team's 9-8 defeat to France in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals.
Rolland was seen as Public Enemy Number One following his decision to send off Walsh captain Sam Warburton after 18 minutes. Criticism arrived from all sides, argued that the Irish referee had destroyed the Welsh side's chance with a hasty and incorrect decision.
He didn't. However hard it was for the Welsh fans and certain sections of the media to take, Rolland made absolutely the right decision in judging Warburton's tackle on French wing Vincent Clerc to be dangerous and worthy of a red card.
He had no option after Warburton lifted Clerc off the ground and dropped him head first towards the ground. It had been made abundantly clear prior to the start of the tournament that there would be zero tolerance for anything approaching what is termed as a "tip-tackle".
It didn't matter that Warburton is not normally a dirty player. Nor did it matter that he had released Clerc on the way down, thereby avoiding the even more dangerous spear tackle.
Either way, the tackle was dangerous and any such incident had to be dealt with. In many ways, the easier option for Rolland was to award a yellow card, a decision which would undoubtedly have made most people happy.
But the former international scrum-half was under strict instructions from his governing body in how to deal with such incidents. He acted accordingly.
The law pertaining to the episode was enforced after the incident a number of seasons back when Brian O'Driscoll was 'speared' by a number of All-Black players.
It states: "Lifting a player off the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst the player's feet are still off the ground, such that the player's head or upper body come into contact with the ground, is dangerous play."
On that basis, Warburton, sadly, had to go. It was hard on Welsh captain as he is a talented young and generally a very fair player who, no doubt, didn't mean to inflict serious damage on his opponent.
But the point is that it could easy have left Clerc damaged. It was a tragedy for Wales to lose their captain so early, especially as they very nearly succeeded in winning the semi-final with 14 men.
At the same time, it is very wrong that Rolland should have had to take such abuse for basically doing his job. He was given charge of the last World Cup final in 2007 because he is one of the best referees on the planet and he remains a top class official.
In the event, Warburton was banned for three weeks because of the incident, meaning that he will miss the third-fourh place play-off against Australia. IRB referees manager Paddy O'Brien gave Rolland his full backing.
He said: "Alain is a highly experienced referee and had a clear view of the incident, which enabled him to make aan accurate and instant decision.
"Player welfare is paramount and Unions, teams and match officials are all aware of rhe responsibility to eradicate dangerous play."