Owen Doyle: England would do well to behave like Ireland

Andy Farrell and his coaching team deserve great credit for Ireland’s disciplinary record, which contrasts with England’s poor one

There’s discipline, and then there’s discipline. It came in two varieties on Saturday.

When Jaco Peyper’s final whistle released the thunderous celebrations of a wonderful home Grand Slam, Ireland had gone through yet another match without troubling the referee’s card pocket. Not one yellow, or red, in any match, plus a low total penalty count, made a huge contribution in the great scheme of things.

For that alone, Andy Farrell and his coaching cohort of Mike Catt, Simon Easterby and Paul O’Connell deserve enormous credit. If the Grand Slam champions, the number one team in the world, can do it then surely it will give others pause for thought and think that maybe, just maybe, card avoidance is a good idea.

And what about English discipline, which was, in fact, missing to a certain degree? Apart from racking up early penalties, which were of massive assistance to Ireland as the home team struggled to find its rhythm, there was quite a bit of foul play. Let’s analyse a few things.


Firstly, Freddie Steward’s red card. My very immediate reaction was that he was bracing himself for an unavoidable collision with Hugo Keenan and that the referee might judge it as accidental with no sanction. However, when a player tucks his arm and leads with his shoulder, as Steward did, he’s running into very high-risk territory and a card was inevitable. The only question was which colour? Peyper calmly talked us through the decision making process - high level of danger, no mitigating circumstances, that was the gist.

Keenan had just picked up the loose ball when the collision occurred, and the replay showed the English player moving forward and jumping into him. Steward ends up striking Keenan in the head with his upper arm and significant force is involved. The HIA was failed and Keenan was off for good.

As much as a yellow card might have seemed more appropriate to some, it is very hard to find the necessary reasons to mitigate it downwards from a red card. Steward left Peyper with no wriggle room on this one. Once the referee judged it to be foul play, the action met all the criteria for the full sanction. The only other option for the referee was to decide it was accidental, and, with the benefit of a full review, I would find that a very hard sell.

Next up for discussion is Alex Dombrandt’s cheap late shot on Johnny Sexton. It led to another penalty, which really should have been accompanied by a yellow card. It’s uncertain why Owen Farrell was so anxious to draw the attention of Peyper to the fact that Sexton was holding his head, maybe seeking a HIA for the captain, maybe to lessen the referee’s attention to the offence. The contact was deemed to be into the back, but it looked higher to me, around the lower neck area, and that would certainly make you hold your head.

Then, an off-the ball tackle penalty, given away by Ellis Genge, actually paved the way for Ireland’s very important, and much needed, opening try. From the penalty Sexton put the ball into touch, giving Ireland a great attacking lineout position from which Dan Sheehan crossed for his first try. Well played and thank you, Mr Genge, a needless own goal.

Late on in the proceedings, Jack Willis flipped over Ross Byrne in a tip tackle, thereby reducing his team to 13 as he trudged off, correctly the recipient of a yellow card for his troubles. This card might easily have been of the red variety if Byrne had landed on his head. Byrne plonked the penalty into the corner and Rob Herring went over from the lineout. That’s a total of 12 points directly courtesy of foul play.

Apart from the cost to their team, in terms of lost field position, and on the scoreboard, none of these players seemed to realise that the chances of getting away with it nowadays are infinitesimal, given the presence of eagle-eyed TMOs and a raft of cameras covering every angle.

It all finished up with England being penalised twice as much as Ireland, 14 sanctions to seven. Red card apart, that creates a mountain of its own to climb.

On Sunday evening we were treated to the luxury of another Grand Slam when Richie Murphy’s Under-20′s saw off England. The coach has done extraordinarily well to guide the team to consecutive Slams, and we will be seeing more of many of them as they move into the higher echelons of the game.

The match was marred by a terrifying tackle by England’s fullback Monty Bradbury on Henry McErlean. It was more of a mixed martial arts throw, with absolutely no regard whatsoever for the safety of the Irish player, who, by nothing other than pure chance, landed on his side. It could so easily have resulted in a horrible injury. The South African referee, AJ Jacobs quite correctly held no truck with how he had fallen, correctly judging that the action was in the extremely dangerous category, deserving of the ultimate red card sanction.

While the Steward incident provided ammunition for those in favour of a 20-minute red card replacement, this one did precisely the same thing for those who are on the other side of the debate. As always, there are two sides to every coin.