Referees do not know what a red card is anymore

Jaco Peyper shows Freddie Steward a red card - Freddie Steward sending off: Jaco Peyper did nothing wrong - Getty Images/David Rogers
Jaco Peyper shows Freddie Steward a red card - Freddie Steward sending off: Jaco Peyper did nothing wrong - Getty Images/David Rogers

There are a couple of things from the Freddie Steward decision which leave me scratching my head. A lot of referees I have spoken to are split: Was it reckless? Was there foul play? Was there mitigation? Or was it just an unavoidable "rugby collision" and play on. It comes down to your view on the day as a referee.

I couldn't argue if a red or yellow card had been given to Steward, but here is where I feel there is plenty of confusion.

If you do not believe Steward has done anything wrong, that it was a complete accident, a rugby collision, then there is no foul play and it's play on. Or, you can say Steward was careless but apply mitigation to apply a yellow card. But if, as the panel have found, you think Steward was reckless and there was foul play, then you are talking about a red-card offence.

My understanding was, and is, that if you have foul play and a reckless action, then the mitigation doesn't play a part in the process. Which is why the outcome of the hearing is a surprise. They haven't decided it was an accident or just a rugby collision, they have said that Steward was reckless and there was foul play. I am not sure, therefore, how they can apply mitigation.

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I have used this scenario before: if you are driving and meeting the 30mph speed limit and someone runs out in front of you who you can't avoid, it's an accident and out of your control. If you are going 40mph – over the limit – and that happens, you are being reckless and don't have a leg to stand on.

I could understand if Steward had not been sent off. But I cannot understand the panel's verdict to reduce the punishment if they felt he was being reckless.

Watching it happen, I felt that if Steward had stood his ground and braced himself for impact, then he would have done nothing wrong. But the fact he was still moving forward and turned to not make a legal tackle... I feel he could have done something different to avoid that. And that's where the foul play comes in. In those conversations I have had with other referees, some are on a red card, some on yellow and some are just play on – and the reason some view it only as a sin-bin offence is because there is no reckless foul play in the first place by Steward, not because of any mitigation. Something about the committee's outcome does not add up.

Former players also divided

Hugo Keenan is not going in upright, he's down towards the chest level of Steward, and that would have counted as mitigation if Steward had done everything he could to avoid a collision. But I'm not sure he did, which is why I felt it was closer to a red card. There is almost a half skip or a jump forward into the contact. Ex-players I have spoken to are also divided, with those leaning toward red doing so because of how Steward comes in. Whereas others are saying they don't know how Steward can do anything different.

Jaco Peyper in that situation is following the framework because he views the incident as reckless and foul play - as have the judiciary – and Jaco has therefore rightly ended up with a red card. You can't be in a position where you think you're going to give a yellow card, but if a player goes off for a head injury assessment you then increase the sanction. Jaco, in terms of following the framework, has done everything right.

I think the judiciary needs to look at their wording, at why they are applying mitigation when they say it's reckless and foul play. Or, the framework needs to be adjusted so referees can apply mitigation. But if you do that, you are on dangerous ground.

Referees should always use a final real-time replay

I once gave a red card to Iain Henderson in a game between Ulster and Munster, and then saw it again on review after the match and thought "b----- hell, Nigel, that's not a red card", and it was quite rightly overturned – but because the foul play was not a red-card offence in the first place.

The Steward incident looks a lot worse in slow-motion, but slowing it down can help you see exactly what has happened. I would always base my ultimate decision though on a final real-time replay, which I think officials need to make sure they do before deciding on a call.

Finally, there is an ongoing trial in Super Rugby in which players can be shown yellow cards and then the incident is reviewed off-field and potentially upgraded to a red card. The Steward example would not fit with that. You have a 60-40 split among referees I have spoken to between it not being a red card and Steward being sent off.

There are four people and the TMO in the box who should be able to make the right decision after a few replays. I don't see the benefit of the TMO having a further eight-minute window to review it. The best officials are appointed for these games for a reason. We need to trust them to make the right calls on the field.