Owen Farrell finally crossed the line for dangerous tackles. Or rather, crossing the line finally led to punishment.
Last Saturday, Farrell’s shoulder made contact with the head of Wasps’ Charlie Atkinson. This led to the referee giving Farrell a straight red card.
In fact, this is far from the first time Farrell’s discipline is under scrutiny. For a long time, leading with his shoulders in the tackle has led to criticism.
Two such tackles came from Farrell during the 2018 Autumn Internationals. Firstly, he shoulder charged Andre Esterhuizen of South Africa. This tackle went unpunished. Nevertheless, referees were shown a directive of what to protect players from prior to the 2019 World Cup. This tackle was actually used as an example of a red card offence.
Secondly, three weeks later Farrell was back in the spotlight. Farrell blocked Australia’s Izack Rodda with a shoulder. The illegal hit went unpunished when the Wallabies at least deserved a penalty try.
The England captain admittedly worker on changing his tackling technique after this.
Owen Farrell is OUT of Saracens' Champion Cup quarter-final against Leinster.
The England captain was handed a five-game ban for a high-tackle tackle Wasps last weekend. pic.twitter.com/QtjF85vzVy
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) September 9, 2020
However, last weekend’s incident left the referee no choice but to show a red. Officials considered the breach high-end. Therefore, the punishment was initially a 10-week ban.
Owen Farrell allowed special treatment?
Subsequently, Farrell received special treatment again. Testimonials from Mark McCall, Eddie Jones, and a charity associated with Farrell, convinced the independent disciplinary panel to halve his ban.
Panel chair Mike Hamlin said: “It was accepted by the RFU, the player, and the panel that the offending was reckless and not intentional”.
This has led to controversy over the testimonials’ relevance. Many have questioned why the player’s charity work affects his character on the pitch.
In contrast, when Farrell has been on the receiving end of such tackles, no such sympathy has been shown. On two occasions in 2019’s World Cup, illegal tackles were made on Farrell.
To begin, a shoulder charge on Farrell was a straight red card for USA Rugby’s John Quill. As a result, he missed the rest of the tournament. Next, Argentina’s Tomas Lavanini failed to hit Farrell at a low height. Immediately, Nigel Owens sent him off. Yet, Farrell stayed on the pitch. Such a tackle would usually require a Head Injury Assessment but no such check took place.
The 5-week ban means Farrell will miss Saracen’s Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster. With guaranteed relegation, this competition is Saracen’s only chance for a trophy this year. Besides this, Leinster will be the toughest team Saracens are likely to meet in the competition. Without their talisman, victory is even harder.
However, Farrell will be back for England’s busy winter fixture list. This is partly thanks to international head coach Eddie Jones.
With the threshold finally crossed for disciplining Owen Farrell, perhaps the spotlight on his physicality will only get brighter.