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With the Pivac era now a distant memory, Warren Gatland has a rich seam of talent to select from in the Six Nations

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Red card casts doubt over Slade's England Six Nations availability

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Alex Davidson/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Henry Slade could miss the start of the upcoming Guinness Six Nations with England after he was red-carded in the second half of Exeter’s Heineken Champions Cup loss at the Bulls. New Test-level head coach Steve Borthwick is set to announce his squad on Monday for the campaign that begins with the February 4 match at home to Scotland.

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However, that is a fixture that the Chiefs midfielder might now be sidelined for if he is suspended following his sending-off in Pretoria. Eventually beaten 28-39, Exeter were 14-32 behind on 54 minutes when Slade chased down Bulls full-back Kurt-Lee Arendse.

The South African, a try-scorer for the Springboks in their November win over England at Twickenham, had collected the possession kicked ahead by the Chiefs after a penalty advantage was called for an off-the-ball hit on Jannes Kirsten.

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Arendse ducked as Slade tackled and while his swinging arm action didn’t initially appear to be a red card incident, assistant referee Thomas Charabas, who had taken control of the match at Loftus Versfeld as referee Mathieu Raynal limped off four minutes earlier, brandished that colour card after reviewing the footage with his TMO.

“We need to check this tackle after my whistle,” said the official, whose concerns about the collision weren’t shared by ex-Scotland international Hugo Southwell, who was co-commentating on the action for BT Sport.

“It is definitely not contact to the head,” reckoned the pundit. “It’s on his shoulder and slips up. It’s probably a penalty, yellow card potentially but not a red. To be fair, it would be harsh even if it was yellow, I think.”

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That view was vastly different from stand-in referee Charabas. “Would you agree with me the danger is high because it is direct to the head?” he asked his TMO. “For me, in full speed, we have a high degree of danger, no mitigation. For me, it is a red card.”

Southwell again reiterated on TV that he didn’t agree. “He [Slade] is pretty unlucky there. I appreciate it slips up, they have got to look after the player, and the more you saw it the worse it looked. But there was a bit of mitigation there. He did hit him a bit lower than his head. It slipped up naturally because he was ducking a bit. A yellow would have been a fair call.”

Slade will now face a midweek disciplinary hearing and a suspension could rule him out for the England showdown versus Scotland in three weeks’ time. The midfielder was involved in all four of the recent Autumn Nations Series games, the last block of matches under the now-dismissed Eddie Jones.

RFU performance director Conor O’Shea, who was on studio punditry duty for BT Sport, believed Slade could have his red card rescinded as he felt it wasn’t clear-cut like Saturday’s other Champions Cup red cards which were given to Sale’s Cobus Wiese and Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue.

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“We saw some pretty clear red cards today and the official [Charabas] was in a difficult position coming on,” reckoned O’Shea. “He was about three, four minutes into it, probably not at the pace of the game. You are never going to second guess what they will do but I would imagine it is going to be looked at again.

“When you look at it from a number of different angles, the player is dipping. It hits the shoulder and rides up. It’s more seatbelt than anything for me… We have to protect the players and sometimes the wrong decision will be reached. In this case, we will find it is. ”

Fellow pundit Lawrence Dallaglio, the 2003 England World Cup winner, added: “It’s a yellow card at best and will be reduced accordingly.”

The disciplinary bother that Slade finds himself in comes days after Test teammate Owen Farrell received his four-game ban that will be reduced to three if he successfully completes tackle school. That one-game reduction will free Saracens skipper Farrell to be selected by Borthwick to play against the Scots.

Meanwhile, with regard to the injured Raynal, there was no indication as to the severity of his hamstring damage in Pretoria. The Frenchman, who took charge of the November draw between England and the All Blacks, is due to be an assistant for the England versus Italy match on February 12 before refereeing the February 25 game in Cardiff between England and Wales.

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