RED CARD STANDS: England captain Owen Farrell banned for four matches after World Rugby wins appeal

RED CARD STANDS: England captain Owen Farrell banned for four matches after World Rugby wins appeal

It should never have come to this. But justice was finally served. Owen Farrell, the repeat high and dangerous tackle offender, was banned for four matches on appeal on Tuesday. 

The England captain received a six-match ban, reduced to four on mitigation because of “the player’s acceptance of foul play, clear demonstration of remorse and his good character”. It was odd considering this is now his fourth ban for similar offences. 

Farrell will miss England’s opening two games of Rugby World Cup 2023 against Argentina and Japan, as well as this weekend’s warm-up against Fiji. He missed last weekend’s 29-10 defeat against Ireland, which served as the first of his four-match suspension. 

The hearing panel on Tuesday said the committee that initially overturned the red card, was “manifestly wrong” in its verdict as they did not consider that Farrell had not attempted to wrap his arms in the tackle, and therefore it was always illegal. 

No mitigating circumstances could therefore be applied. 

Nika Amashukeli, the referee, shows Owen Farrell, the England captain, a red card as he sits in the sin bin during the Summer International match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on 12 August 2023 in London, England. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

Integrity of the ‘bunker’ at stake 

While the sanction is still lenient, considering Farrell’s track record, at least World Rugby was able to see some punishment meted out on appeal. 

Farrell was red-carded for a dangerous tackle on Wales flank Taine Basham at Twickenham on 19 August. The Welsh player failed a head-injury assessment and could not continue in the match, which England won 19-17. 

Farrell was initially yellow-carded by Georgian referee Nika Amashukeli in the 63rd minute, but the foul play review officer (FPRO), in what is called the “bunker”, upgraded the sanction to a red. 

Farrell was subsequently charged with dangerous tackling, which carries a six-week, mid-range sanction for any hit that makes contact with a player’s head. Farrell has previously served three suspensions related to dangerous tackling. 

The red card was rescinded at a disciplinary hearing a few days later and lowered to yellow, meaning Farrell was free to play. 

But in an unusual step, World Rugby, the game’s governing body, appealed against the decision to rescind the red card, which was made by an all-Australian committee. 

Downgrading the red card met with massive disbelief and posed some uncomfortable and precedent-setting consequences for the sport if unchallenged. 

Owen Farrell

England captain Owen Farrell received a red card for a high tackle in England’s match against Wales. He was expected to receive a ban, but the red card was initially reduced to a yellow by an independent panel – a decision World Rugby appealed. (Photo: Gaspafotos / MB Media / Getty Images)

Considering “the bunker” and the FPRO will be used at the upcoming Rugby World Cup in France, it was essential that its integrity was supported through the appeal by World Rugby. 

The wording by the disciplinary committee that rescinded the red card severely undermined the entire FPRO process. 

“Unlike the Foul Play Review Officer, the Committee had the luxury of time to deliberate and consider, in private, the incident and the proper application of the head contact process,” a stateme

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