England fullback Freddie Steward has had his controversial red card from Saturday’s Six Nations game against Ireland rescinded by an independent disciplinary committee, the Six Nations said on Wednesday.
Steward was sent off just before half-time of the game in Dublin after his elbow made contact with opposite number Hugo Keenan’s head, which resulted in Keenan playing no further part in the match as Ireland went on to win 29-16 to secure a grand slam.
Steward said he was bracing himself for a collision and had no time to take avoiding action, but referee Jaco Peyper deemed otherwise, said there were no mitigating factors and that “in the current climate” he had no option but to send him off.
The committee found, however, that there were sufficient mitigating factors, notably “the late change in the dynamics and positioning of the opposing player.”
They did not uphold the red card, saying it should have been a yellow, and said that Steward is free to play again immediately.
The committee acknowledged that “match officials are required to make decisions under pressure and in the heat of a live match environment.”
Referees are given a clear framework to work through after a head contact, including any mitigating circumstances, which usually relate to the tackled player entering contact low.
The process is part of the game’s ongoing bid to reduce head contacts against a backdrop of legal action by a large group of former players claiming the governing bodies did not do enough to protect them from potential brain injury.
Steward was originally punished for a breach of law 9.13, relating to a late or dangerous tackle, but the hearing decided that he should be charged for breaching law 9.11 (players must not do anything that is reckless or dangerous to others including leading with the elbow or forearm, or jumping into, or over, a tackler).
That reflected Steward’s defence that he was “bracing” for impact rather than attempting to stop Keenan, who had collected a loose ball after an Irish knock-on, wrong-footing Steward.