Owen Farrell set to miss Saracens’ Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster
England captain could be hit with a ban of at least six weeks for high tackle
Saracens’ Owen Farrell apologises to Charlie Atkinson of Wasps after being sent off for a high tackle on him during the Gallagher Premiership match at the Allianz Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images
The England captain Owen Farrell is likely to face a suspension of at least six weeks following the red card he received on the hour in Saracens’ defeat by Wasps on Saturday, thereby ruling him out of their Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday week.
That will be Leinster’s fifth game in a row at the venue, with the carrot of a home semi-final a week later, after the Pro14 organisers confirmed that next Saturday’s Grand Final will be played at the Aviva with a 7.35pm kick-off.
The Pro14 holders, who are seeking a third title in a row after reaching their ninth final in 11 years with Friday’s win over Munster, will face Ulster after their former outhalf Ian Madigan drew his side level with a 75th-minute touchline conversion and then put them in front for the first time with the last kick of the game on Saturday night against Edinburgh at Murrayfield.
Leinster were awarded the final at home after topping the regular season rankings, although had Edinburgh won word is that the Scottish government, right up to first minister Nicola Sturgeon, were keen for the final to be held in Murrayfield.
Farrell was sent off after catching Charlie Atkinson, Wasps’ 18-year-old replacement outhalf who was playing in just his second Premiership appearance, with a swinging arm to the head. In mitigation, just before contact Atkinson checked. Farrell surely didn’t intend to catch Atkinson so dangerously and was immediately apologetic.
However, the court of social media will condemn him from a height, not least as Farrell’s tackle technique has often been guilty for being too high, albeit he has only been suspended once before, for two weeks.
The Saracens talisman is expected to be charged under Law 9.13, which carries a minimum entry point of two weeks, although any foul play which involves contact to the head or neck carries an automatic “mid-range” sanction, which begins at six weeks.
Speaking on BT Sport, the former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio admitted: “It is a really bad one, I can’t defend that. We know Owen plays hard, he plays on the edge but that is bad and he will get a lengthy ban.
“He is going to miss that [the quarter-final against Leinster] and I suspect he will miss quite a lot of the remainder of this season and possibly the autumn too.”
With nothing else to play for, Saracens remain dangerous opponents as they seek to retain their European crown, and his likely replacement, 20-year-old Manu Vunipola, has built up a useful body of work, but Farrell’s leadership, vision and warrior spirit would be missed by any team.
Prior to that quarter-final, Leinster will hope to have extended their unbeaten run since losing last season’s final against Saracens to 25 games and thus secured one half of a Pro14-Champions Cup double.
Leo Cullen readily accepted Leinster will need to improve after what he described as a “pretty brutal” semi-final against Munster, but admitted that playing inside the Aviva again, even though it’s an echo chamber, will be a boost.
“Going through the season unbeaten doesn’t really count for anything bar the fact that it gives you number one seeding. To do that, there has been all the dogging out wins at different stages in the year,” said Cullen of their seasonal opener last September away to Benetton.
“We had that 3-0 classic away win at Zebre early in the season as well, which the game on Friday was probably like, and all those wins that you notch on the road, all the players that are involved in them.
“We have used 53 players and some of them are no longer with us, but we certainly always want to recognise the efforts put in by all of the guys to get to this stage. It’s four weeks in a row [at the Aviva] and it becomes a little more familiar I guess, even though it’s very off to be here without supporters and that’s probably the thing we miss the most, being here with friends and family and the people who are used to cheering us on.”
His Munster counterpart Johann van Graan maintained “we gave ourselves every chance to win the game” and added: “I’m certainly a lot more upbeat tonight than I was a year ago after the semi-final. I felt after last year’s semi-final that they outplayed us. I felt this time that they used their opportunities better.
“There’s an incredible heart in this squad. The coaching group are growing together. It’s incredible what the players did over the last seven weeks. As disappointed as I am tonight I’m so excited about the season to come.”
For their part, Ulster will be contesting their second final as they seek a first title since 2006, and will hope to emulate their performance when extending Leinster all the way in last season’s memorable European quarter-final after their thrilling comeback from 19-7 down in the last quarter against Edinburgh.
“You’re happy to win a semi-final, it’s an achievement, but the achievement that you’re after is to win silverware,” said their head coach Dan McFarland.
“That means that we’ll go home, we’ll recover, we’ll regenerate, we’ll assess what we did well, what we did poorly and then really zone in on what’s relevant to trying to win this weekend. It’s the same things we always do. We can’t get ahead of ourselves because we’ve not won a trophy and ultimately that’s what we want. If we don’t do that we’ll be really disappointed.”