The decision to send off Freddie Steward in England’s defeat to Ireland and then the subsequent revocation of his red card sums up the state of rugby today.
Confusion reigned among those on the pitch and in the stands. The mess. It goes without saying that every possible effort should be made to make the game safer. Player welfare must be at the heart of every conversation. But the decision to send Steward off didn’t make the game any safer.
It makes you ask yourself the question ‘What on earth is happening in our sport?’ We still have many mistakes. That includes big refereeing calls.
Rugby has so many issues to deal with. In England, we have seen two Premiership clubs go bust. I really thought the Six Nations gave rugby a much needed shot in the arm. All in all, this year’s Championship was amazing. The standard is exceptional.
You can see the work done by players, coaches and referees to control physicality and accurately punish those who fail to fulfill that duty of care. And then this happens.
Rugby is in turmoil after Freddie Steward was sent off for a collision with Hugo Keenan in England’s Six Nations defeat to Ireland
Steward was sent off for a collision with Ireland captain Hugo Keenan at the weekend as he was deemed to have made a reckless and dangerous tackle.
But on Wednesday, a disciplinary panel threw out that decision and said Steward should only have been given a yellow and therefore not banned.
The failure sent rugby back to square one. I remember talking one day to Baroness Sue Campbell who was one of the leading figures in British sport.
He said to me: ‘Clive, the agent of change is never popular.’ I have never forgotten that and now, more than ever, rugby needs a change agent.
When Jaco Peyper and his fellow officials decided that Steward should be sent off in Dublin, the words used were that his clash with Keenan was a send-up to the ‘current climate’. What on earth does this mean?
The referee was deemed to have made a dangerous and reckless tackle before the disciplinary panel overturned the decision
The only ‘current climate’ in the sport is that it is in meltdown. Officials make a tick sheet when it comes to making big decisions and they are all afraid of making the wrong call or doing something to ruin World Rugby that will affect their careers. That sums up the game as a whole at this point.
Everyone is too afraid to rock the boat or say something against the status quo. Oh how we need a change agent. I said on TV in Dublin and in my columns after the match that I didn’t think Steward should have been sent off. I also said I thought it could be yellow, but now I’m annoyed.
I don’t think there should be any card. The decision to show the Steward in red is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. I agree with much of what my fellow Sportsmail columnist Shaun Edwards has said on this issue. But I didn’t feel sorry for the referees. They were told to operate within the laws, but they should not be held accountable to World Rugby. They should be responsible for the sport.
We all respect and admire referees. We don’t have a game without them. But no law is black and white. The referee has to interpret them and the Steward incident is a classic example of failing to do that. I am very surprised that no one from the RFU has come out and defended Steward.
I don’t think there should be any cards – the decision is one of the worst I’ve seen
This failure brings rugby back to square one – what else could Steward have done?
Someone in the Twickenham hierarchy must have said: ‘This is not right.’ Steve Borthwick and the England players commented after the match, but no one in authority said a word until Steward’s disciplinary hearing. That’s not good enough. It is ironic that the England lawyer used to defend Steward is Richard Smith – the same person I brought into the set-up more than 20 years ago.
I was laughed at for bringing a lawyer into an international rugby team, but Richard was a key member of our England outfit and he saved us from trouble at the 2003 World Cup when we briefly put 16 men on the field against Samoa . That mistake could have completely derailed our World Cup bid, but we got away with a fine.
I remember another incident with Richard when Danny Grewcock was sent off against New Zealand for headbutting Dan Carter in 2004. After the game, Richard went up to Danny while he was looking at the replay on his laptop and told him: ‘It’s not a good look. I’m good, but I’m not that good!’ Danny pleaded guilty on that occasion and served a long ban!
I really thought the disciplinary panel would have supported Peyper’s decision to fire Steward so I think they were able to be brave enough to admit that the officials had made a mistake.
A special well done again to Richard. Now, with the World Cup just around the corner, we need to make sure these decisions are correct. I would like to see referees given a framework to work within, but also license to be pragmatic within the rules.
Officials need to have empathy for the game and make decisions accordingly. Anyone with rugby knowledge or experience knows that the Steward-Keenan contact is what we call a ‘rugby incident’. There was no intention or malice from either player.
Officials need to have empathy for the game and there must be a change in the World Cup
What else could Steward have done? He told Peyper at the time: ‘I’m preparing for the impact and I can’t go anywhere. ‘It’s milliseconds. I can’t react fast enough.’
He was focused. Rugby needs to erase these mistakes now. We will not have a repeat of the Steward situation in the big tournament games in France later this year. No referee will be perfect.
We want to reduce mistakes, but they happen so I think the idea of a 20 minute red card is a good idea.
Will we see that happen? I do not think so. But we need to see a change in policy when it comes to referee collisions because we cannot repeat the uncertainty and insanity that the Steward situation has shown.
We need a change agent to stop rugby moving in the wrong direction and we need it now.