The Offload: Farrell’s five-week ban sets a dangerous precedent

Bristol’s Pat Lam chances his arm, rugby needs a mega star as Amazon comes calling

Owen Farrell was banned for five weeks after his sending off against Wasps. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty

Owen Farrell was banned for five weeks after his sending off against Wasps. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty

 

What is a suitable punishment for the 28-year-old who smashes his meaty forearm into the teenager’s head? 10 weeks might have been a deterrent. Five weeks sounds dangerously wrong.

What message does this send to the next wave of players?

Pick a charity, mate.

How do you set an example that will tell the coming generation that high tackles belong in the realm of rugby union’s older professional cousin, Rugby League?

This was an opportunity for the sport to make a lasting statement. Owen Farrell was dead right to do everything in his, Saracens and the RFU’s power to defend himself. Eddie Jones stepping into the witness box must have carried significant weight.

The character of the captain of England is not in question here. His tackle technique is.

The fact that teenagers are being exposed to senior club rugby - mainly due to the amount of games that need playing to meet broadcast and sponsor demands - must be of equal concern. Stuart Lancaster recently stated as much.

Farrell and Atkinson should both consider themselves blessed.

Last week, Joel Dark turned 20 in a hospital bed while fighting for his life after the Australian League prospect suffered a seizure following a head knock on his ‘first grade’ debut for Newcastle Central against Western Suburbs. The game was abandoned.

“It’s with great sadness that we are bringing you this update, after a few days of fighting with all his might, Joel wasn’t able to overcome his terrible brain injury and he left this world this morning,” Dark’s family and friends informed the public. “Hug the ones you love today.”

Word of mouth

“On a personal level, not having your family and loved ones around you is very strange. Even, not really being in a position to see them after this either because my family is from Wicklow and they’re kind of in their own bubble. I was just on the phone on the pitch to my parents, I won’t get to see them for another while. It’s very strange times where I can’t just run to the side of the pitch and give them a hug, but that’s the way it is.” - Josh van der Flier on the weird disconnect caused by playing rugby in a pandemic.

Man of the match in the Pro14 final, Josh van der Flier. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Man of the match in the Pro14 final, Josh van der Flier. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

By the numbers

3 - Pro 14 titles won in a row by Leinster on Leo Cullen’s watch.

Pat Lam chancing his arm

That Pat Lam, the former Connacht coach, used concussion as a means to defend Siale Piutau’s unacceptable behaviour should not go unchallenged. The Bristol director of rugby asked to be interviewed by BT Sport to paint Piutau as the victim when the Tongan international clearly sparked a brawl in the recent match against Worcester.

“Siale has been attacked by two guys,” said Lam following a three match ban for striking. “He is five foot eleven. They are six foot seven, six foot six coming at him...Our judiciary process says he is not allowed strike back. Now, he has had five concussions. He gets whacked in the head, he is lucky he blocked the first one - we’ve had Will Hurrell’s career ended - and [Piutau]is getting pummelled in the head. In common law you are allowed defend yourself but on the rugby field you just got to take it.

“It was an unprovoked attack...What do I say to his wife and children if he gets a whack in the head? ‘Sorry your husband is in hospital.’”

Come on now Pat. It is on YouTube. This deeply disingenuous slant by Lam was challenged by Worcester director of rugby Alan Solomons: “If you look at the facts of the matter and view the footage Siale Piutau was the instigator of the incident. He tackled Ted Hill, straddled him post tackle, grabbed the top of his jersey and started screaming and shouting at him. You can hear it on [Wayne Barnes’]mic. Andrew Kitchener was clearly provoked by what had happened and he has learned his lesson and been punished and rightly so for throwing punches.”

Amazon needs a mega star

So, Amazon Prime have finally revealed themselves to be the saviours of rugby. In they come to bring the Autumn Nations Cup to your iPhone. Hallelujah.

As our new pal Jeff Bezos surveys the sport’s rugged landscape the zillionaire must be wondering who is the poster boy or girl to charge into the many untapped markets. Who is rugby’s LeBron or Messi or Tiger, that single name figure we can rattle off and people all over the globe know what we are on about?

Maro Itoje - one of the few players who could transcend rugby? Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty
Maro Itoje - one of the few players who could transcend rugby? Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty

‘Sex-ton’ might work. How about ‘Maro’ or ‘Siya’? Now ask yourself, will any of them be stopped for a selfie strolling down the street in Mogadishu or Los Angeles?

Alan Dymock, a former Scottish prop turned very competent journalist, makes this point in his recent feature for Rugby World Magazine.

“But does anybody transcend the sport right now? I don’t think so,” asked and answered sports marketing consultant Tim Crow.

Dan Carter came pretty close - although his Indian summer in Paris did not go so well - but until rugby has a foothold in the gaming world, until a comparable figure to Jonah Lomu rises to the top, and stays there for a decade, the game will be dependent on Amazon rather than Amazon ever being dependent on rugby.

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