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The Borthwick reaction to Vunipola red, latest England defeat

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Steve Borthwick claimed post-game in Dublin that he had yet to take a second look at the Billy Vunipola red card against Ireland, the third sending-off for an England player in their last four matches.

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The red cards brandished to Freddie Steward last March and to Owen Farrell last weekend were both downgraded to yellow card offences, but World Rugby have appealed the latter Farrell verdict and that case will be heard on Tuesday.

It won’t be the only disruption to England’s preparations for their fourth and final Summer Nations Series match next Saturday against Fiji in London, as Vunipola is now also facing a disciplinary hearing following his second-half expulsion in their lacklustre 10-29 defeat to Ireland.

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Kiwi pundits react to Owen Farrell’s red | The Breakdown

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Vunipola, who had struggled to impose himself on proceedings, was yellow carded on 53 minutes for driving his right shoulder into the head of the ball-carrying Andrew Porter.

Referee Paul Williams told the England No8 that the footage would be reviewed by the TMO bunker and that the sanction was open to getting upgraded to a red card.

Points Flow Chart

Ireland win +19
Time in lead
73
Mins in lead
4
91%
% Of Game In Lead
5%
37%
Possession Last 10 min
63%
7
Points Last 10 min
7

The sending-off was confirmed some minutes later before play restarted after a James Lowe try had pushed Ireland 3-17 ahead, referee Williams getting told there was a “high degree of danger, no wrap, no mitigation”.

Vunipola’s expulsion now leaves England boss Borthwick potentially facing the September 9 start of the Rugby World Cup campaign versus Argentina in Marseille with two key players suspended, Vunipola and skipper Farrell.

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“Clearly as you understand I am not going to comment on the incident specifically because it will go through a disciplinary process this coming week,” said the head coach at the top of his post-game media briefing in Dublin before diverting attention onto other aspects of the match.

He eventually returned to the hot topic some minutes later. “Now the specific incident today with Billy, I have not looked at it again because I was more focused on concentrating on the game and what we needed to do.

“But to be very clear, Kevin (Sinfield, defense coach) and I have gone on record many times and talked about what we coach and what we want to happen in the tackle and I stand by that.”

Had Borthwick spoken to Vunipola about what had happened? “I saw him very briefly in the changing rooms and clearly he is disappointed with the situation that has happened. We have got a process we need to go through, he understands that and we will await a conclusion this week.”

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What were the England coach’s thoughts on the game, his team’s fourth loss in their last five outings? “Probably as every England fan feels, it’s disappointing the game today.

“I said before we need to keep 15 players on the pitch for every 80 minutes and when you are playing the No1 ranked side in their stadium and you go to 14 men, it becomes a very, very difficult task from that point in time.

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“The players kept fighting. The players that came off the bench added. If you consider the first period of the game where it was 15-v-15 and we were going against a very good Ireland side, it was a tight battle.

“Just before half-time it was sitting at 7-3 and we missed opportunities and turned over the ball in the final third, so we weren’t able to put enough pressure on them.

“We missed some points at goal and the opportunity to go to the corner. When it was 15-on-15 it was a tight battle and unfortunately it didn’t stay 15 on 15.”

England went on to be outscored by three tries to one in the closing 27 minutes of the match that they played with a man less – and the deflating outcome marked their fifth defeat in the eight matches they have played since Borthwick took charge last December.

“I’m sure every England supporter is disappointed and I share that feeling with them and I am sure the players do also because we want to ensure that we win games and we want to be in a position to win games and winning becomes a habit. That is something we all share.”

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