World Rugby has appealed against the judiciary decision that cleared Owen Farrell to play at the World Cup – prompting an angry response from his dad and Ireland coach Andy, plus England’s coach Steve Borthwick.
The England star was cleared of any wrongdoing by an all-Australian judiciary after a dangerous tackle saw him receive a red card during a World Cup warm up game against Ireland last weekend.
There were thoughts Farrell, who has previous suspensions for high tackles, could face a lengthy ban ruling him out of some World Cup games but he escaped punishment to a background of outrage.
The decision will now under go an appeal process that could see the England star still face a ban.
“World Rugby has today confirmed to the Rugby Football Union and Six Nations Rugby that it will exercise its right to appeal in regard to the Owen Farrell disciplinary decision following a careful review of the independent Judicial Committee’s full written decision received on 16 August.
“World Rugby fully supports the important role that an independent disciplinary process plays in upholding the integrity and values of the sport, particularly regarding foul play involving head contact. Player welfare is the sport’s number one priority, and the Head Contact Process is central to that mission at the elite level of the sport.
“Having considered the full written decision, World Rugby considers an appeal to be warranted. In line with provisions set out under Regulation 17, an independent Appeal Committee will be appointed to determine the matter at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Farrell was sent off in the win over Wales on Saturday for a shoulder-led tackle to the head of Wales replacement Taine Basham. He received a yellow card, but it was upgraded to a red by the newly-introduced bunker review system.
Andy Farrell was upset by the decision.
“The circus that’s gone on, in and around all of this, is absolutely disgusting, in my opinion, disgusting,” he said.
“When you’re talking about somebody’s son and asking the question, it’s always going to be flawed, so what does that really matter?
“I don’t normally say too much because of that type of reason about my son.
“But what I probably would say at this moment in time is that the circus that’s gone on in and around all of this is absolutely disgusting, in my opinion, disgusting.
“I suppose those people that have loved their time in the sun get a few more days to keep going at that.”
Borthwick announced a team to play Ireland minus Owen.
“Unfortunately, given the disruption to his week and the intrusion in terms of his preparation, I made the decision to pull him out of the team that he would otherwise have led this weekend,” he said.
“The situation is one I find really disappointing. The commentary around it seems to move from issues around the tackle to personal attacks on the character of the man, which I think is just wrong.”
“Owen has handled himself through this process in a really respectful manner.”
Earlier Thursday, Wallabies coach Eddie Jones hailed the controversial decision to clear Farrell to play.
Jones, who coached Farrell for England, said he was glad Farrell would be free to play in the World Cup – pending the result of WR appeal.
“Owen’s an aggressive player,” Jones said. “With everything tightening up, the margin of error is so small and what can look like a bad tackle can just be a slight error of judgment. I’m glad they [the panel] used common sense. We want the game to be safer, but we’ve got to use our common sense,” Jones told the Times.
“I would never like to see a player banned for a World Cup, unless it was a piece of foul play that was massively intentional. In today’s game, how often do you see that? It’s an absolute rarity. For a physical contact game, it’s remarkably clean. When players do make contact with the head, it’s usually because of an error in judgment, it’s not a malicious intent.
“When I was with England, Owen talked about tackle technique and what he could do to make his tackling less susceptible to the referee intervening. There are small margins of error.”
Jones said part of the reason the issue was inflamed was the slow-motion replaying of incidents.
“When you see the actual time they have to make a decision – which is not like what you see on slow motion – it is problematic,” said Jones.
The incident neatly sums up the lack of clarity around high shots – Farrell was given an onfield yellow, upgraded to a red on bunker review then cleared.
Wallabies fullback Andrew Kellaway wants a precedent set so players know where they stand.
“The decision has been made so I don’t think there’s any value in unpacking that too much,” Kellaway told The Roar earlier this week.
“If that’s the decision that’s been made, they deem that to be okay, then great. That’s a fantastic thing because now that sets the sets a precedent for anything to come in the future.
“There’s all sorts of chat about people weighing in on whether he should or shouldn’t be banned, but I don’t have an opinion on that. I do hope it takes precedent, because that’s all anyone’s really after – consistency in that space.”
There had been outrage from all corners of the rugby world to the decision to clear Farrell, and none more poignant than that from England World Cup winner Steve Thompson, who is battling dementia from what he believes is damage suffered by head knocks in his playing days.
Thompson is among a group of former players who have launched legal proceedings against World Rugby.
“At first, you’re angry about Owen Farrell having ‘previous’, but this isn’t a witch-hunt about Owen Farrell, it’s about the whole procedure,” Thompson told the Daily Mail.
“The referee did the right thing; yellow card, then it’s put up to a red card, then it goes to a hearing.
“You have so many ex-players and supporters of Saracens and England who always stick by Owen Farrell, so for them to come out as well and just say this is an absolute joke…
“The only good thing is the absolute out-cry from about 99 per cent of people, because they know it is wrong. It is hard for myself and others who are trying to change people’s thinking, but on the other hand it is a good thing because so many people are so angry about it – because of the change we’ve brought.”
One of Thompson’s 2003 Cup-winning teammates, Matt Dawson, said the decision was a reason he doesn’t want his children playing rugby.
“I’m only talking from my own experience. And the ramifications of this for me I will be telling my two sons and encouraging them not to play rugby,” Dawson told Off the Ball.
“This whole event highlights the fact that I don’t want them to play rugby. And I know that’s absolutely mirrored with thousands if not tens of thousands of parents around who are going to watch that and think ‘I don’t want my son taking that tackle and it’s going to be okay on a Sunday morning.
“Or, I certainly don’t want my son or daughter making that tackle on somebody else and thinking that’s okay. Knocking someone into next week and giving them a concussion. I don’t want that on my conscience or my kid’s conscience.”