England's Steward has red card rescinded

Six Nations Championship - England v France
Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - England v France - Twickenham Stadium, London, Britain - March 11, 2023 England's Freddie Steward looks dejected REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

LONDON March 22 (Reuters) - England fullback Freddie Steward has had his controversial red card from Saturday's Six Nations game against Ireland rescinded by an independent disciplinary committee, the Six Nations said on Wednesday.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 halftime of the game in Dublin after his elbow made contact opposite number Hugo Keenan's head, which resulted in Keenan playing no further part in the match, which 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 said 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.

Ireland were leading 10-6 at the time of the sending off, which was roundly condemned by pundits. Former England scrumhalf and BBC pundit Matt Dawson said: "He is stepping and slowing and turning to get out of the contact area, and has been punished by being sent off. It is a mockery. It is an utter farce."

Former England captain Will Carling said: "Steward had a split second to react, after a knock-on, to a man running at him. There was no intent - he was protecting himself - what a joke."

Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge

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