Five-match ban is the least Owen Farrell could have expected

Saracens’ outhalf has typically tackled quite high and was caught out on Saturday

Owen Farrell of Saracens leaves the field of play after being sent off during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Saracens and Wasps. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Owen Farrell of Saracens leaves the field of play after being sent off during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Saracens and Wasps. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

 

As expected the England captain Owen Farrell has been ruled out of Saracens’ Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday week as a result of the five-match ban he has suffered. Realistically, it was the least he could have received.

Farrell was sent off for the first time in his career after catching the Wasps 18-year-old replacement outhalf Charlie Atkinson with a swinging arm and learned his fate at a virtual disciplinary hearing on Tuesday night which ran for almost four hours.

No one could disagree with the verdict of the three-man independent disciplinary panel chaired by Mike Hamlin, which decreed that Farrell’s swinging forearm to Atkinson’s head was “reckless”, “totally unacceptable” and worthy of a high-range entry point of 10 matches.

This was reduced to five matches, because of mitigating factors, including the player’s remorse (“I know this was bad” he said to the referee Christophe Ridley before being shown a red card) and a relatively clean disciplinary record which previously had featured just one suspension of two weeks in 2016.

Farrell will also miss the semi-finals of the Champions Cup should Saracens beat Leinster, although he would be available for the final and England’s autumn programme. However, moving forward, the critical point here is that with the help of his club and international coaches, Mark McCall and Eddie Jones, Farrell improves a tackle technique which hitherto has often been quite high.

It certainly helped Farrell’s case that both McCall and Jones were character witnesses on his behalf, along with a representative of a charity which has worked closely with the player.

Alas, there has been very little indication to date from McCall or Jones that Farrell has an issue with the height of his tackling on occasions. Indeed, under the head coaching of Jones and captaincy of Farrell, inflicting “absolute brutality” has become an objectionable mantra of this English team since their 2019 World Cup final defeat both in public and within the confines of their own set-up.

Speaking before their Six Nations opener away to France this year, Jones commented: “The game is violent isn’t it? You make a choice to play the game. It’s a brutal, physically aggressive game. We saw in the World Cup final how important aggression is. It’s going to be the same on Sunday. I apologise if it’s been interpreted in the wrong way.

“France can expect absolute brutality from England, we are going to go out there to make sure they understand what Test rugby is. It is about being brutal, it is about being physical and it is about dominating the set piece.”

Maybe it’s time Jones, Farrell and England both brought it down and toned it down.

In Farrell’s absence, Saracens have the option of moving Alex Goode from fullback to outhalf against Leinster, or pin their hopes on Manu Vunipola, the England under-20 World Cup outhalf who is a cousin of Mako and Billy.

Goode played at outhalf in Saracens’ first game after lockdown when they lost away to Bath but the 20-year-old Vunipola started the big wins over Harlequins, when landing two of six kicks, and Gloucester, when kicking five from six.

“[We have] two options – Manu to start or Alex Goode,” admitted McCall in the wake of Farrell’s red card, and even before the disciplinary hearing. “That’s the choice we have to make. I have every confidence with everything Manu has faced over these eight or nine months have prepared him for these moments and we think he is ready.

Saracens are liable to rest most of their frontliners from their meaningless games away to Sale on Wednesday and Exeter at home next Saturday, and the Champions Cup holders had been going well until Farrell’s red card contributed to their defeat by Wasps, having recorded three bonus point wins on the bounce.

They will remain a dangerous opposition for Leinster in what is a reprise of the 2019 final in St James’ Park in Newcastle, when Farrell kicked 10 points in the three-time winners’ 20-10 win. With their us-against-the-world mentality, they revel when backed into a corner and will play as if there is no tomorrow - for in terms of the 2019-20 season anyway, there will be no tomorrow if they lose.

Nonetheless, the loss of Farrell is compounded by some significant departures since the club’s relegation on foot of two points deductions amounting to 105 points for breaches of the Premiership salary cap regulations.

Most notably, the gargantuan Australian lock-cum-backrower Will Skelton has moved to La Rochelle in the Top 14, while his fellow second-row in that final against Leinster, George Kruis, has joined Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan.

Ben Spencer, their starting scrumhalf in Newcastle, who was also England’s replacement ‘9’ in the World Cup final, has joined Bath, while their talented 22-year-old flanker Ben Earl has joined Bristol Bears on a one-year loan.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.