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Six Nations 2023: 'Unacceptable to spoil good games with poor red cards'

Written by 
Published in Rugby
Sunday, 19 March 2023 04:11

Ireland's Grand Slam-winning game against England was amazing and it is unacceptable to spoil a Test like that with a red card like the one Freddie Steward was given.

Just before half-time, with Ireland leading 10-6, England's Steward collided with Ireland's Hugo Keenan and referee Jaco Peyper decided the contact was bad enough to merit a red card.

It was a disgraceful decision. Keenan had bent down to pick up a loose ball. Anyone who has played rugby knows exactly what was going through Steward's mind in that moment.

He was trying to avoid a collision. Initially he thought he was going to have to make a tackle, then the ball went loose so he tried to get away from contact to avoid any trouble.

He hit the brakes and turned his body to get away from it. It was a freak accident. Keenan's head went down because the ball had been dropped and made contact with Steward's arm.

What is really disappointing is that none of the officials even got close to discussing whether Steward was trying to pull out of the situation.

All the focus was on the slow-motion point of contact, which, by the letter of the law, led to a red card.

Just because it is the letter of the law does not make it right. They are the laws that some people have created and on this occasion there was a glaring glitch.

After the game I was in a lift going down into the media area with two Ireland players and even they said it was a bit harsh.

Rugby is a contact sport

Laws around dangerous contact are increasingly strict to protect players from brain injuries. I am never going to jeopardise the health of players within the sport.

However, the game that we play is a contact sport. If you think that you are not going to come across some kind of serious collision in the game of rugby union you should not play it.

The game will protect the players as much as it possibly can by driving good behaviours, and it is a lot safer than it ever has been because of the way the players are taught to control their body height going into contact.

I wonder if there is an argument to have someone among the officials who has played rugby to a high level because, in the case of Steward, they would understand that scenario and what he was trying to do.

The impact of head injuries is not the only issue within rugby, and World Rugby and the unions have a lot on their plate.

I constantly hear the phrase 'player welfare' and it often refers to contact and concussion.

Player welfare is more than that.

It is how much rugby players are playing, the calendar, how much they are getting paid, their contracts and their financial, physical and mental wellbeing.

The way the game is being pieced together at the moment, I am not sure player welfare is top of the agenda. It might be said to be, but I am not sure it is.

Ireland can win the World Cup

I do not want all this to take anything away from what was a fully deserved Ireland Grand Slam.

They probably would have won the game regardless of whether Steward was sent off or not.

The way England were playing, it took a lot out of them and they probably would have tired to a point where Ireland would have finished them off.

I know from experience that it is very difficult to win a Grand Slam. You need squad consistency, strength in depth and for the opposition not to work you out as the tournament goes on.

I was really impressed with Ireland. They can go on to win the World Cup later this year, although New Zealand, France and South Africa are possible winners too.

A wake-up call for England

Some of Ireland's World Cup opponents might be grateful to England for the way they played on Saturday because there were moments when it made the opposition flustered.

England put Ireland under pressure and made sure they did not have the fast ball they are used to. That has got to be the base intensity England play at going forward.

There was a stark contrast in attack where England made line breaks but could not finish them off.

Ireland manipulate their opposition to create something out of nothing, whereas England were going through the phases and waiting for their opponents to crack.

But there was definite progress after England's heavy defeat by France. The last two weeks were a big wake-up call for some of those players.

Those games have been semi-final and final intensity. Now that they know where that level is, England have got to find it.

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport's Becky Grey.

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