‘Ireland sit alongside England 2003 as finest team of professional era’ - English media react to Irish Grand Slam

Former England players Matt Dawson and Mike Brown bemoan ‘farcical’ red card decision

The English media reaction to Ireland’s Grand Slam win in Sunday’s newspapers focused on England’s embattled and improved display, the controversial red card decision, but also Ireland’s deserved win.

In the Daily Telegraph, Daniel Schofield wrote Ireland’s Grand Slam went from a “green sweep to a pub brawl”.

“And so the universal prediction of an Ireland Grand Slam on St Patrick’s weekend came to pass. Records were broken, tears were shed and flags were waved. Yet for the best part of an hour, 14-man England turned the procession into a pub brawl, making the whole experience far more uncomfortable than anyone inside a raucous Aviva Stadium expected.”

He wrote about Ireland previously being uncomfortable with the favourites tag but how head coach Andy Farrell has transformed that mentality.

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“Even when they were rattled by England, you never felt that Ireland lost their grip on the result.

“The ‘green sweep’ was complete and this Ireland side deserve to be considered alongside England’s 2003 team as the finest of the professional era.”

Oliver Brown of the same newspaper noted the edginess of Ireland on the day, writing they were “jittery, as if anticipating an English surge. And yet for all England sniped and harried, their propensity for brain fades returned to haunt them.

“Ireland were oddly off-kilter, their anxieties laid bare when Hugo Keenan, usually metronomic in his precision, hoofed a kick horribly into touch inside his own 22. Surely they were not about to let this chance drift away on the cool evening breeze? In terms of atmospherics, they had everything in their favour, with even the ships on the Liffey estuary honking their horns loudly in an effort to disrupt Farrell’s kicking rhythm.”

He wrote of the Freddie Steward red card: “By the laws of the game, you could just about comprehend the call. But by the spirit? That is a debate that will smoulder for some time.” Charlie Morgan, writing an article focused solely on the red card, wrote: “Sometimes, freak occurrences like this throw up a stark choice for referees: red card or play on. All things considered, though, a penalty and a yellow card would have acknowledged both the danger of the situation – Ireland lost Keenan for the whole game – and the mitigation of a fast-moving scenario.”

Matt Dawson on BBC Radio Five Live was not quite as subtle with how he read the decision, calling it an “utter farce”. He said the officials showed a “lack of understanding of the game”, arguing Steward tried his best not to make contact.

“He is stepping and slowing and turning to get out of the contact area, and has been punished by being sent off. It is a mockery. He was doing his utmost to avoid any kind of contact. It is an utter farce.”

Former England player Mike Brown also agreed with Dawson in the Mail on Sunday, calling the red card “ridiculous” and praised England for their performance.

Clive Woodward in the Mail on Sunday did not think the fullback should have got a red card either, saying nobody in his ITV commentary studio said a word when the tackle first hit.

“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.”

The former England head coach did say, however, Steward’s red card did not ruin 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.”

Stephen Jones in the Times wrote despite England’s defiance in Dublin, it cannot mask what was the worst season in the history of English rugby.

“The added unity and organisation of their performance against Ireland is not to be sniffed at, even though they have still had a disastrous season by their supposed standards.”

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