WOODWARD: Borthwick's 14 men put pride back in the England shirt

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: England may not have spoiled Ireland’s Grand Slam party – but Steve Borthwick’s 14 men put pride back in the shirt after last week’s hammering to France

  • England bounced back with passion despite suffering defeat against Ireland
  • The hosts’ triumphant 29-16 win in Dublin handed Ireland a historic Grand Slam
  • England’s tough task wasn’t aided by Freddie Steward’s red card before half time

The contrast between England’s woeful performance against France last Saturday and in the game with Ireland in Dublin last night was like chalk and cheese.

After the hammering Steve Borthwick’s side took by Les Bleus, they put pride back in the shirt at the Aviva Stadium, even if it wasn’t enough to stop an Irish Grand Slam.

I wrote in the build-up to the game that I simply couldn’t see a single way England could win this match but they deserve credit for the way they responded to France.

Borthwick saw his team lose Freddie Steward to a red card, one which I thought was not worthy of a sending off, but even with 14 men they were in the contest with the world’s No1 side. At 60 minutes, England were only a point behind and they can take heart from that.

Before I analyse England further, I want to give credit to Ireland. They fully deserved to win the Grand Slam this year. Ireland and France are the two best sides on the planet right now.

Ireland beat England 29-16 to win the Grand Slam title on Saturday afternoon – claiming a historic victory at the Aviva Stadium – but Steve Borthwick’s men put pride back in the shirt

Freddie Steward was sent off on the brink of half time after inadvertently putting Hugo Keenan on the floor with his shoulder, making contact with the full-back’s head as he picked up the ball

Facing those teams in the past fortnight has been a huge learning experience for England. The two losses have shown England exactly where they are.

Ireland was much better before the team ran out of puff in the final quarter, with Steward having seen red and Jack Willis in the sin bin. It is impossible to defend against a team like Ireland with a man down, let alone with 13 players on the pitch. The result was inevitable late Irish tries.

Despite those scores, England never fell apart in Dublin as they did against France. It is strange to be in a position talking positively about England after another loss. Any England senior side should be looking to win each and every game it plays.

That must be the aim for us as a major rugby nation but at the same time the reality is that is not possible at the moment.

England are far behind the best teams on the planet and have to build from a lower base. There is significant work for the team to do looking ahead to the World Cup this year.

I don’t think Steward’s red card ruined the game because, in my view, Ireland were always going to win and would have done so anyway had England stayed with 15 on the field.

England succumbed to their worst defeat at Twickenham last Saturday, losing 10-53 to France

Jamie George gave England’s hard-working 14 the least they deserved – a try against Ireland

But at the same time, I didn’t think the full-back should have been dismissed. When Steward collided with his opposite number Hugo Keenan, there was no one in our ITV commentary studio who said a word. There was no one screaming ‘Wow. That has to be a red card’ or anything like that.

Steward’s elbow definitely connected with Keenan’s head. I totally understand rugby needs to limit head contacts to protect the players but I also think there needed to be a bit of rugby empathy in those sorts of situations. I think Steward should have been given a yellow card at most. There was no way the Leicester back was deliberately trying to hurt Keenan.

With the World Cup around the corner, we have to get these big decisions right because red cards can have such a defining impact on matches now.

I repeat myself by saying that I think Ireland would have still won against England even if Steward had stayed on the pitch. They have a truly wonderful side packed full of world-class players.

Their attacking game is ruthlessly simple but so effective.

England put Grand Slam winners Ireland to the test – defending far better than last weekend

The first try they scored through Dan Sheehan was exactly that, with one small inside pass from Josh van der Flier completely bypassing the English defence.

When England look back on this Six Nations they must analyse the France and Ireland games in detail to see the standard they need to reach. It is not all doom and gloom and I remain positive about Borthwick’s appointment as head coach after his first campaign in charge.

Yes, he will have wanted it to go far better than it did. And yes, England can play better than they showed. But after the hammering by France, we have to look at the positives from the Ireland game as painful as it is to have suffered another loss.

The hard work must now continue. There are only six months to go until the World Cup. Were that tournament to start tomorrow, you couldn’t say England would be genuine contenders.

A mockery or the right red card?

Freddie Steward’s red card just before half-time turned England’s match on its head and sparked fierce debate among experts.

Sir Clive Woodward, the World Cup-winning former England coach and Sportsmail columnist, said the referee Peyper made the wrong call in penalising the full-back after he led with his shoulder and striking Hugo Keenan’s head.

But Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll disputed his co-pundit’s view and was backed up Alain Rolland, the former international referee, who was speaking to the Mail on Sunday.

Sir Clive Woodward: ‘When you watch it live, none of us said it was a yellow or red card. It’s just a rugby incident that happens. Keenan goes to kick it and goes down a bit, Steward comes in. Freddie Steward is not a dirty player, he’s not going, “I’m going to hurt this player.” To the letter of the law it’s a red card, but in terms of a rugby incident, it’s a yellow card at best. I think they should shake hands and move on. He got it wrong, it’s a yellow card.’ 

Brian O’Driscoll: ‘Steward goes in to brace himself for a collision that is square on. You’re not in a strong position if you stay square, you’re going to turn your body. It’s just unbelievably unlucky that he caught him square in the head with his elbow. As soon as you saw the replay, there is a duty of care from the defender on the attacker, irrespective of the knock-on. He can’t lead with the shoulder like that. He catches him square in the head. Jaco Peyper came to the right decision, albeit it’s a tough one to make.’ 

Alain Rolland: ‘There’s going to be an awful lot of people saying the red card is unlucky, harsh and unfair. It’s all of those things but it’s not wrong. Did we see head contact? Yes, that’s clear. Was it at a high force with a high degree of danger? Yes. The player went off the field and did not return. We have a duty of care. It wasn’t accidental and there weren’t really any mitigating factors. No change in height or last minute ball movement. It’s unlucky but if you stick to the facts of the head-contact process, it’s not a surprise it ended in a red card.’ 

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