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The Borthwick, Farrell reaction to the Freddie Steward red card

By Liam Heagney
Referee Jaco Peyper red cards Freddie Steward in Dublin (Photo by Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images)

England boss Steve Borthwick has refused to share his thoughts on whether the red card brandished at Freddie Steward in Dublin was deserved or not. The young full-back was red-carded by referee Jaco Peyper with the first half clock in the red at the Aviva Stadium after his elbow collided with the face of Hugo Keenan with the visitors trailing by just 6-10 in the final round of the Guinness Six Nations.


It was the second successive England-Ireland fixture in which the English suffered a first-half red card. A year ago, Charlie Ewels was red-carded after just 82 seconds and they showed defiance to be level at 15-all with 10 minutes remaining before falling away to lose 15-32 at Twickenham.

A similar outcome happened in Dublin, England initially responding brilliantly to going down to 14 players with Steward expelled on the blow of half-time.

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They closed the four-point interval margin down to one with a 51st-minute penalty and it was only when Ireland struck for a try through Robbie Henshaw 12 minutes later that the English resistance was fractured and they eventually went down 16-29, the game ending with the visitors reduced to 13 players as Jack Willis received a late yellow card.

Asked to address the red card given to Steward and whether it was merited, England boss Borthwick doggedly kicked the issue to touch and refused to reveal his feelings despite multiple questions in the early part of his post-game media briefing.


“To be honest, my thinking was, ‘Red card, we are down to 14, what is the significance, what do we need to make from a tactical adjustment point of view?’ Whenever a referee goes through a disciplinary process like that, I’m thinking as a coach, ‘Right, if it goes this way, what is the significance?’ That is where my head turned to.”


It was an answer he repeated when quizzed again and again on the incident. “As I say, at the time my head was, ‘What does the team need to do now, how can I help the team in any way’.

“Owen (Farrell) already had the situation under control, and I thought the players adapted to the situation incredibly well. Against the number one side in the world, the space eventually became apparent – especially when down to 13 men. The fatigue took its toll eventually, but I thought the players adapted incredibly well to going to 14 men.”

Asked how Steward had personally taken the setback of getting sent off for England, Borthwick added: “Freddie Steward, I thought in the minutes he was on the pitch he was playing incredibly well again.”

With Borthwick refusing to take the bait on the hot topic from the round five Six Nations match, the issue was put Farrell’s way to discuss and the England skipper was more forthcoming than his coach.


“I was surprised if I am honest,” began Farrell. “But it is not up to us, we don’t make the rules, we don’t put them in place, we don’t hear what goes on on the ref mic and the process that they go through. That is the decision they came to and you have to accept it.

“That is not up to me to decide. I thought the game was a brilliant contest. I thought it was a brilliant Test match and the way that we reacted after we got that red card was very good.

“I thought we fought for each other and unfortunately we didn’t get out the right side of the result which is very disappointing in an England shirt but the reaction to things that didn’t go our way – and the card being one of them – especially after last week I thought was brilliant.”


It was only when a general question about tackle height was asked at the very end of the 15-minute media briefing that Borthwick at last directly addressed the red card and the decision that referee Peyper made.

“If we are talking about tackle height, we can have a conversation about tackle height. That is fine. What was clear there was that Freddie was not trying to make a tackle.

“There will be a disciplinary procedure. It is not right for Owen and me to be talking about the incident. The decision happened and quietly rightly the England team respects the decision.

“The players were magnificent on the pitch. They respect the decision that happened, and we talk about how we adapt thereafter. He [Steward] wasn’t trying to make a tackle, so it’s not about tackle height.”

Ireland boss Andy Farrell later added about the England red card: “That’s the rules, isn’t it? It’s unfortunate but it’s the rules. I suppose you have got to trust the people as always who see it for what it is in real time and on the screen etc and we trust them to make the right decision.”


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