Freddie Steward’s red card in England’s final Six Nations game against Ireland on Saturday has been rescinded.
The England full-back, 22, was sent off just before half-time after his elbow made contact with Hugo Keenan’s head.
An independent disciplinary committee reviewed all available evidence and heard from Steward via video link.
The committee found there were “sufficient mitigating factors” for the collision and ruled that Steward is free to play again immediately.
Ireland made a loose, forward pass which hit the ground before being gathered by Keenan, with the ball bouncing a split second before Steward and Keenan collided.
The committee deemed that referee Jaco Peyper should have shown Steward a yellow card rather than a red, and therefore been sin-binned, saying that one of the mitigating factors was “the late change in the dynamics and positioning of the opposing player”.
However, the committee also “acknowledged that match officials are required to make decisions under pressure and in the heat of a live match environment”.
Ireland were leading 10-6 when Steward was sent off and went on to win 29-16 in Dublin to secure a fourth Grand Slam title.
Steward was sent off for breaching Law 9.13, which refers to dangerous tackling “above the line of the shoulders”, but the committee amended the law that was breached to Law 9.11, which refers to reckless tackling “leading with the elbow or forearm”.
Steward denied that he had committed an act of foul play worthy of a red card as described in Law 9.11 and the committee agreed, even though they felt he had been “reckless in his actions and in his upright positioning”.
‘Ridiculous’ and ‘a shambles’ – how rugby reacted
Speaking on Saturday, former England scrum-half Matt Dawson argued that Steward did “his utmost to avoid contact”.
“I can’t disagree with how the contact is a red, but it is the context of how it went to that contact,” he said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“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. It is an utter farce.”
World Cup winner Jason Robinson described the decision as “absolutely ridiculous”, adding: “That was a yellow card at best.”
England centre Jonathan Joseph said it was an “absolute shambles”, while former wing Ugo Monye described it as a “bad call” because the clash was “a rugby incident”.
Ex-England captain Will Carling said: “Steward had a split second to react – after a knock-on – to a man running at him.
“There was no intent – he was protecting himself – what a joke.”