Owen Farrell’s international teammate Max Malins has described the abuse thrown at him as “shocking” and “ridiculous”, while reports reveal England’s cut back on psychology resources for the World Cup.
Wales coach Warren Gatland also outlined his own battle with a troll he referred to as an “Irish dickhead” as the rugby world continued to rally around the England captain.
Farrell has decided to miss this season’s Six Nations to prioritise his and his family’s mental health. The UK Telegraph reported that Farrell could “miss up to a year” and it is “almost certain” Farrell won’t play on the tour to Japan and New Zealand.
“There are also serious doubts over the likelihood of a return for next year’s autumn series which includes Test against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa,” the paper said.
Malins has backed the 32-year-old, who will continue playing for Saracens, to return “as good as he was” at the sport’s highest level.
“It has probably come as a surprise to many, but good on him,” said Bristol back and Farrell’s old Saracens’ colleague Malins.
“I think he is unfairly treated in the media and from fans.
“We are all human beings. For someone to take such a battering over a period of time it is going to take its toll at some point, so good on him.”
Farrell led England to a third-place World Cup finish in France last month, but the tournament build-up proved far from plain-sailing for him.
He was sent off in a World Cup warm-up game against Wales, only for an independent disciplinary panel to cause an outcry when it cleared him following a shoulder-led tackle to the head of Wales forward Taine Basham, which was expected to result in a significant ban.
World Rugby then appealed that decision, and he received a four-match suspension that included England’s opening two World Cup fixtures against Argentina and Japan.
Farrell’s father – Ireland head coach Andy Farrell – labelled media coverage of the episode “a circus”, while his son was subjected to considerable attacks on social media.
At times during the World Cup, he was also booed by sections of the crowd during England games.
Malins, who was also part of England’s World Cup squad, added: “I think it’s shocking, to be honest.
“I was up in the stands when the teams were getting read out, and I heard that (booing). It was a big surprise to me. I really don’t get it.
“For what he has done for England Rugby – he is one of the greatest players to wear that shirt – and for some fans to treat him like that is ridiculous.
“You won’t find many people with a mentally tougher approach than Owen, so for him to feel like this is the step he needs to take is worrying in a sense, but also very brave and good of him to do so.”
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall has also criticised the “shameful” treatment of Farrell in what he believes should be a wake-up call for the game.
“I’ve worked with Owen for 15 years, every day, and the person that has been portrayed in the media bears no resemblance to the person I know. He’s a family man, they’ve always come first,” said McCall.
“There was a narrative created and started and that’s been there for quite some time. There’s only so much that someone can take.
“On top of that, he’s a brilliant, caring, supportive team-mate and a loyal friend to many. And a very good, decent human being. That’s the person I know.
“It was courageous and brave of him to open up. I admire Owen for many reasons anyway, but even more for doing this.”
World Rugby chief Bill Beaumont expressed dismay at Farrell’s treatment.
“As a player the last thing you want to do is give up playing for your country,” Beaumont said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“He has been a great leader for England over the years. You don’t ever want to live in a society where somebody like Owen Farrell, who has been a great servant to rugby, should be booed when he’s playing for his country.
“It’s very disappointing for him and his family and he obviously feels he needs a break away from the spotlight of the international game to recharge his batteries and come back.”
Former England coach Clive Woodward said he hoped Farrell’s move would make it easier for players to seek a pressure release during their careers.
“I hope, with the decision made and the outpouring of support he has received, he can now look ahead with new-found freedom,” he wrote for the Daily Mail.
“I hope Farrell sets the tone and inspires new thinking in this area. Why is taking a sabbatical not more common?
“No doubt they [the RFU] will blame others – especially the media – and create another nameless committee to investigate and put forward their thoughts with zero accountability. Farrell will probably be left to work it out for himself. That is so wrong.
“The RFU and other international sides should look at Farrell’s situation with real concern but as an opportunity to better support players. The world’s best businesses build sabbaticals into their HR processes as paid leave. Why not rugby?
“[Farrell] is going to continue to play for his beloved Saracens and I really hope this is not the last we’ve seen of him at Test level. Here’s hoping the break does him the world of good and he can return to the international game when he’s good and ready.”
Gatland, writing in the Telegraph, said he was “largely protected from the abuse because I am not on social media” but added “for a few years now I have been targeted by a troll who managed to get hold of my mobile phone number and has been sending me smart, snidey comments.
“At first I thought the messages were just a joke from a mate. I had previously lived in Ireland, and it just came up as a message from an Irish number. I didn’t give it much thought. Had I given my number to someone and not stored his name? Was someone just taking the piss?
“Yet the messages kept coming, not many but about half a dozen times a year, usually if we had lost a game, attempting to make a sarcastic comment or jibe. It was then I realised it was not a joke, but something more sinister.
“To make sure I knew the messages were coming from the troll, I saved his number under the name ‘Irish dickhead’.
Gatland said he was more affected when his son Bryn was targetted.
“I can still vividly remember a comment that I read after Bryn had just missed a long-range kick at goal from the sideline when he had come on for the Auckland Blues. It said something like: “I couldn’t care if Bryn Gatland didn’t wake up tomorrow morning,” Gatland wrote.
“I am old enough and have been long enough in this game to shrug off most barbs, but as a father that one was hard to take. It was why I could completely understand Andy Farrell’s defence of his son following the vitriolic abuse Owen received following his red card for his tackle against Taine Basham during our defeat by England at Twickenham in August.”
It also emerged that the RFU scaled back psychological support for the England team at the World Cup.
In contrast to Australia, which apparently had three psychologists available to players on Eddie Jones’ doomed campaign, the Telegraph revealed that Steve Borthwick’s side only had in person access to a sports psychologist on a part-time basis throughout the tournament, with the specialist attending England camp two to three days a week.
“It marks a significant cutback in mental wellbeing provision for the England squad, who previously benefited from continuous support from a sports psychologist,” the paper wrote.