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Refereeing Legend Nigel Owens Breaks Down Freddie Steward Incident

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Thursday Mar 23, 2023

Former international referee Nigel Owens is widely regarded as the best ever to pick up a whistle in the oval ball game.

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Known for his quick wit, calm demeanour and unmatched knowledge of the game’s laws, there are few better than Owens to break down a controversial rugby incident.

This week on World Rugby’s YouTube channel, Owens discusses the biggest talking point to come from Ireland’s round five victory over England.

Deserved Grand Slam champions Ireland emerged victorious 29 – 16 to close out a memorable campaign.

Yet one area of contention to emerge from the match was the red card handed out to England Fullback Freddie Steward towards the end of the first half.

Opinions are split on the incident with many former and current players, coaches and referees viewing the collision differently.

Owens is quick to point out this split saying “I have to say the split is probably 60/40 in the yellow or none red card camp.”

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The former ref then goes on to brilliantly break down the incident by saying “I want you to try and take your emotions out of it because if you’re English you’re probably going to have a different view to most Irish,

“If you’re one of these in the camp that thinks the red card spoils the game, you’re automatically going to think you don’t like that card.

“So the referee has to get rid of all of those emotions as they have to deal with the facts. As it comes down to this, does he believe there has been foul play?

“If he believes there has been foul play, he then goes to mitigation and degree of danger.”

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Having broken down the process the referee has to go through, Owens then breaks down the incident in question by saying: “If you look at it, look at the way the referee deals with it. It is very difficult to argue with his thought process of the red card.

“So we can follow or we can agree with a red card for the referee making a decision on the day that there is foul play.

“What he thinks is that Freddie Steward is in a position where he could’ve changed what he was going to do next and because of that we have foul play, we have head contact and we have a high degree of danger. We don’t really have much mitigation to take it down from a red, although some may argue that there is and therefore we have a red card. A totally understandable decision.”

Having discussed the thought process behind a red card, Owens then went on to break down how the incident could’ve been deemed as a yellow card offence: “It is difficult to argue with what Jaco Peyper has seen and why he has given a red card.

“Now let’s go to the yellow card camp and many of you aren’t even at a yellow card. Many of you feel that Freddie Steward couldn’t do anything different. He couldn’t do nothing to change what happened next.

“If that’s what you feel and that’s what the referee felt at the time then the referee would’ve come from a red to a yellow or may have even decided there is no foul play here because there is nothing he could do.

“So even though you’ve got head contact you don’t have foul play and nobody has done anything wrong then we don’t have a sanction.”

Owens then goes on to offer his opinion by saying: “I can’t really disagree with the red card. Now it would be very unfair of me to sit here and say I would’ve given a red or I would’ve given a yellow because I am not in that moment on the field.

“In that moment on the field, it all comes down to what that referee deals with the facts. Forget the emotions, forget that you’re English, forget that you don’t like a 15 against 14 game. All of that is out the window, you deal with the facts and the facts are what Jaco Peyper explained and we have a red card which is not the wrong decision. But if you felt that Freddie Steward couldn’t do anything different then I couldn’t disagee with you either.”

“I am very sorry to tell you to those of your who say Nigel you are sitting on the fence. I am not sitting on the fence because this is the game of rugby, you’re going to have decisions that split the view on it and this is one of them.”

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