Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
World World



'Daring, gallus and honest, Stuart Hogg has defined a Scottish era'

Stuart Hogg retires young, but retires a giant of Scottish sport.

RugbyPass+ Home

Ref Watch: Peyper was right to send Freddie Steward off

By Paul Smith
Jaco Peyper flashes Freddie Steward a red card - PA

Anyone wanting to summarise the tangle that rugby union’s law makers have created in their quest to reduce the amount and severity of head injuries needs look no further than England full back Freddie Steward’s sending off in Dublin.


Despite the outrage expressed on social media – including predictably loud outbursts by usual suspects Andy Goode, Austin Healey and Joe Marler – I defy anyone to work through World Rugby’s head contact protocols and reach an alternative outcome.

Brian O’Driscoll delivered a rational piece of analysis along these lines during the half-time interval at the Aviva Stadium with which it was extremely hard to disagree.

Video Spacer

Video Spacer

Referee Jaco Peyper provided his fellow officials and the listening TV audience with a word-perfect summary of how match officials are now required to approach their evaluation of this type of incident then determine the most appropriate sanction.

“It is direct to the head with force, he has clear line of sight, he is upright, there is a high level of danger and no mitigation,” he said, before waiting to hear if either touch judge or the TMO disagreed.

We have twice seen Karl Dickson intervene from the touchline in recent weeks to change the colour of the card being issued – but unfortunately for England’s outstanding player of this Six Nations there was to be no such stay of execution this time and a red card duly followed.

As those who perhaps played rugby in their younger days, love watching on TV or at their local club and relish the sport’s traditional values are always quick to point out there was no intent in Steward’s actions. But since the law makers removed intent and replaced it with the above protocol this has no relevance, crazy though it seems.


Was he instinctively trying to protect himself against a close-quarter contact with an off-balance opponent? Probably.

Did he have time to get out of the way? Possibly not.

Was this a typical ‘rugby incident’ the kind of which has taken place on a regular basis since Webb Ellis had his moment in the spotlight at Rugby School? Absolutely.

But none of this matters any more to a sport which is desperately trying to protect its professional participants from the kind of health issues afflicting Steve Thompson and upwards of 200 other ex-pros and its coffers from their resulting legal action.


If you are able to find the phrase ‘rugby incident’ in the law book then please let me know. Referees do not have the option to deal with the majority of what were once considered unavoidable collisions as accidental no-blame collisions.

If you think this seems ludicrous in a contact sport then I am 100 per cent in agreement with you, but most of us don’t have 200 cases of early-onset dementia and potential damages which could reach tens if not hundreds of millions of pounds to worry about.

The one aspect of this about which I am 100 per cent clear is that Jaco Peyper plus TMO Marius Jonker and touch judges Christophe Ridley and Ben O’Keeffe handled this situation exactly as they are instructed. When you read social media hysteria please bear this in mind.

Indeed, from Peyper’s perspective the phrase which springs to mind is “don’t shoot the messenger” since – as I never tired of telling players during my time refereeing – he doesn’t write the laws, he just applies them.


Join free and tell us what you really think!

Join Free
RUGBYPASS+ Stafford McDowall: 'I thought I was stopping rugby and going back to the farm' Stafford McDowall: 'I thought I was stopping rugby and going back to the farm'