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The Hugo Keenan verdict on the overturned 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)

Ireland full-back Hugo Keenan has given his verdict on the rescinded red card received by England’s Freddie Steward in last Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations finale in Dublin. The English No15 was sent off by referee Jaco Peyper for his first-half collision with his Irish opposite number.

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Keenan missed the rest of the title-clinching 29-16 win for Ireland due to a failed HIA examination in the minutes after he was taken from a field that Steward also had to leave under very different circumstances.

The red-carded collision ignited massive debate and its disciplinary hearing sequel deemed that referee Peyper had been over-zealous with his card colour choice and that Steward only merited a yellow card.

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In a statement on Wednesday following the virtually held Tuesday evening hearing, it was explained by the Six Nations that while there was head contact and that Steward had been reckless in his actions, mitigating factors including the late change in the dynamics and positioning of Keenan should have resulted in the issue of a yellow card rather than a red card.

“On that basis, the committee did not uphold the red card and the player 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.”

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Keenan, whose celebrations of the Ireland Grand Slam had continued on Monday night as he was spotted by RugbyPass amongst a large group of players enthusiastically touring the Dublin pubs, was pencilled in for midweek media work to launch Energia’s Think of the Possibilities campaign.

It was at this event that he gave the Irish media his thoughts on the disciplinary hearing outcome following what had happened at the Aviva Stadium with Steward last Saturday. “It’s probably fair enough, isn’t it?” began Keenan. “It’s up to the citing commissioners and the refs to make those decisions, but it was a bit of an accident, wasn’t it? He was very apologetic nearly straight away after and then after on the pitch as well.

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“As a fellow full-back, I feel for him in those positions. It was just one of those sorts of rugby incidents, it’s not like it was a reckless high challenge or anything like that. It was a weird incident. You never really see it. They are just trying to eradicate any contact with the head, and it is obviously an important issue to get right but it’s probably more so for the high tackles or dangerous clear-outs.

“It’s a tough one to know, so you just have to trust the higher powers and refs and citing commissioners to do their job the best they can and make the best call they can.”

There was no malice between the rival full-backs. “I caught him on the pitch and he apologised. I accepted it completely and we had a little chat. He is a lovely lad in fairness. He is a very big boy, you don’t realise until you are on the pitch, about six foot seven I’d say, and 120 kilos.

“He is probably nearly the biggest player on the pitch, so it probably didn’t help his cause, did it? Putting me to shame with my mere height and weight!”

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“I remember it all. It was a good whack, but I still knew exactly where I was, what the score was, everything about the game. So, it was a pretty close call. I just failed the HIA. With the independent doctor, I was a small bit down on one of the tests, so between that and the actual video evidence, you just have to trust the advice of the doctors.”

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Paul 458 days ago

Are we not missing the point completely here. The game needs to evolve. The number of rugby players who have been diagnosed with motor neuron disease is growing annually. Yes growing! you’re 15x more likely to develop it if you’re playing top level rugby and this fact! is far more of a threat to the game than a red card. Lets significantly reduce the risk to players of developing this devastating disease and help future proof this beautiful game, it’s a devastating fact that most die within 2 years of diagnosis of MND. So lets support world rugby, the ref and protect the players. The game will not be ruined by a red card but players lives are. Please guys listen to what world rugby is trying to do, lets look at the bigger picture here…. We all love this game but it is a game!!

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