French defence coach Shaun Edwards has expressed his bemusement over the decision to send off Freddie Steward in England’s final Six Nations match against Ireland in Dublin.
Steward was shown a red card after he collided with Hugo Keenan as the Irish fullback collected a ball from the deck, but his suspension was overturned this week.
The Leicester fullback appeared before a virtual disciplinary hearing on Tuesday night, and it was decided that while the tackle was an act of foul play, there were sufficient mitigating circumstances to view it as a yellow card offence only. This means that Steward can play in Leicester’s next game.
England’s frustration at the on-field decision by referee Jaco Peyper was evident, with Owen Farrell’s incredulous “Red card?!” response caught on camera. Despite being down to 14 men, England showed resilience in the face of Steward’s dismissal, but ultimately lost 29-16.
Writing in his Daily Mail column, Edwards, who previously coached Wales’ defence, said the decision was “an injustice”.
“Freddie Steward’s red card on Saturday night – which was rescinded on Wednesday – was an injustice. It was an injustice to Steward himself and also to the England fans who had paid good money for their tickets. Referees need to be given more control and power to make their own decisions.
“In football, ultimately it comes down to the referee’s discretion if he is pulled over by the VAR for a penalty check. In rugby, it is like a village council meeting!
“In my eyes, Steward’s actions barely warranted a penalty. I have no idea what he could have done to avoid contact. The problem we have is refereeing has become a box-ticking exercise. We have some brilliant referees but they don’t seem to have any discretion because the game is basically officiated by World Rugby checklists.”
The hearing noted in its statement that “match officials are required to make decisions under pressure and in the heat of a live match environment,” suggesting that they understood the difficulties faced by referees.