- Former England coach Clive Woodward has slammed Jaco Peyper's decision to red card Freddie Steward in a Six Nations game.
- The red card has since been downgraded to yellow but Woodward feels no card was warranted.
- The 2003 World Cup-winning coach called on officials to "have an empathy for the game and make decisions accordingly".
Rugby World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward says the decision to red card England fullback Freddie Steward in a Six Nations match against Ireland was "one of the worst" decisions he's ever seen in the sport.
Steward was controversially sent off by South African referee Jaco Peyper after he made head contact with Ireland counterpart Hugo Keenan.
Steward and Keenan had both charged towards a loose ball. The England fullback braced for contact as Keenan looked to scoop up the ball, before the players made contact.
Peyper deemed Steward's actions were reckless and dished out a red card.
A Six Nations disciplinary panel confirmed on Wednesday that the red card should have instead been a yellow.
However, Woodward said the incident left a blemish on the sport.
"When Jaco Peyper and his fellow officials decided Steward should be sent off in Dublin, the words used were that his collision with Keenan was a sending off in the 'current climate'. What on earth does that mean?" Woodward wrote in his Daily Mail column.
"The only 'current climate' to the sport is that it is in meltdown. The officials are working off a tick sheet when it comes to making big decisions and they are all terrified of making the wrong call or doing something to upset World Rugby which will affect their careers. That sums up the game as a whole at the moment."
Red card for Freddie Steward pic.twitter.com/N6nVNx2qQN— RugbyLAD (@RugbyLAD7) March 18, 2023
Woodward said initially he agreed that a yellow card was the appropriate sanction, but he has since had a change of heart.
"I don't think there should have been any card at all. The decision to show Steward red was one of the worst I've seen. I agree with a lot of what my fellow Sportsmail columnist Shaun Edwards has said on this issue. But I don't feel sorry for the referees. They are being told to operate within the laws, but they should not be accountable to World Rugby. They should be accountable to the sport.
"We all respect and admire the referees. We have no game without them. But no law is black and white. A referee has to interpret them and the Steward incident was a classic example of failing to do that. I was hugely surprised no-one from the RFU came out and defended Steward.
"Officials need to have an empathy for the game and make decisions accordingly. Anyone with rugby knowledge or experience knows the Steward-Keenan contact was what we would call a 'rugby incident'. There was no intent or malice from either player."
Woodward further questioned what else Steward could have done in that scenario.
"He told Peyper at the time: 'I'm bracing for impact and I can't go anywhere else. 'It's milliseconds. I can't react quickly enough.' He is spot on. Rugby needs to eradicate these mistakes now. We can't have a repeat of the Steward scenario at big tournament games in France later this year."
The Six Nations panel determined Steward "had been reckless in his actions and in his upright positioning as he approached and came into highly dangerous contact with the other player". However, mitigation applied "including the late change in the dynamics and positioning of the opposing player".
Steward will not serve any ban and is free to play with immediate effect. His escape, however, is too late for England as they lost the Six Nations game 29-16 in Dublin.
The panel also acknowledged that match officials are required to make "decisions under pressure and in the heat of a live match environment".