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Le papier a été publié à une date indiquée 2023-08-22 17:15:00.
At the end end of a farcical, protracted saga, Owen Farrell was on Tuesday night left to face up to an abbreviated, delayed and disrupted World Cup campaign.
The England captain had avoided a ban last week, when he faced a hearing after a high tackle on Taine Basham, but now justice has caught up with him for a shoulder to the head of the Wales back-rower. World Rugby had appealed against the initial reprieve and, this time, there was a very different and very significant outcome.
Farrell, 31, was shown a yellow card at Twickenham on August 12 and had it upgraded to red, as part of the new in-match ‘bunker’ review system. Days later, the decision by an all-Australian judicial panel to rescind that ruling threatened to undermine the new officiating tool designed to prevent miscarriages of justice. Now, its authority has been reinforced, at a cost to England and their skipper.
The appeal committee ruled that the original panellists should have ‘considered the attempt of the player to wrap his opponent in the tackle’ – something they had not done. That factor was deemed to have been crucial in explaining the upgrade from yellow to red on immediate review. Having considered this aspect of the incident in detail, the appeal panel sided with the Foul Play Review Officer and concluded that the tackle by Farrell was ‘always illegal’.
That meant mitigation could not be applied, so the verdict of the original panel – that slight contact with Jamie George had changed Basham’s running angle a split-second before he collided with Farrell – was overturned. As such, the red card upgrade was judged to have been appropriate.
England are now in a world of pain after skipper Owen Farrell was banned for four matches
Farrell was originally sent off for a high tackle on Taine Basham in England’s win over Wales
It’s been an unwelcome distraction for Steve Borthwick who must now cope without a key man
This was no first-time offence, far from it in fact, so once guilt had been established, there was unlikely to be a substantial reduction in the recommended sanction. But still, Farrell was given some benefit of the doubt. The mid-range ‘entry point’ of a six-game ban was reduced to four, on account of his ‘acceptance of foul play, clear demonstration of remorse and his good character’. It had taken all day and into the evening to reach this ruling.
Farrell’s latest hearing began at 7.30am on Tuesday and the skipper appeared via video link from the England team base in Surrey. He once again received legal counsel from Richard Smith KC, who had helped him to persuade the original disciplinary panel that his offence against Basham was not worthy of a red card after all.
It is understood the appeal proceedings were concluded by late afternoon, but then there was a protracted process of summarising and ratifying the findings, with all parties seemingly requiring sign-off before the official verdict could be publicly announced.
As the hours passed and the wait went on, and on, there were mass complaints about what was widely regarded as a shambles.
A public commentary was in full swing, complete with all manner of conspiracy theories about the cause of the hold-up; some feasible and others utterly far-fetched. Rugby’s ability to turn a potentially straightforward matter into an over-blown circus was illustrated, under the fierce glare of global scrutiny.
Finally, at 8.30pm, came the confirmation – at long last – that Farrell had been banned. There had been huge interest in the outcome, with widespread tension and expectation on these shores and far beyond, which reflected how the messy episode had attracted so much strident opinion.
There had been a furious backlash against Farrell’s initial reprieve, with foreign critics and countless English ones condemning a disciplinary system which was deemed to be inconsistent and unfair. But then the backlash drew another backlash.
Tempers flared on all sides. Last Thursday, England head coach Steve Borthwick angrily railed against what he claimed had been ‘personal attacks’ on his captain, hours after his Ireland counterpart and Owen’s father, Andy Farrell, had slammed the ‘circus’ as ‘absolutely disgusting’. For Borthwick, along with the personal dimension he perceived, the saga was an unwelcome distraction.
The whole saga surrounding Farrell was awful and has tarnished the reputation of the game
It means Courtney Lawes will continue as England skipper while Farrell remains unavailable
As someone who speaks often about a desire for clarity, he now has that. Farrell is unavailable until the second half of the World Cup pool stage. For England, it means going into the tournament with George Ford at 10 and Courtney Lawes continuing as captain. These are far from disastrous developments, if greater freedom and cohesion can be permitted by the coaches.
For the sport as a whole, this is a vital message about the importance of protecting the heads of players. The original disciplinary verdict had jarred with that fundamental quest for greater safety, so the authorities will be relieved that this amended outcome sends out a better message about the need to banish a culture of high-tackling which is proving stubbornly persistent.
Rugby’s showpiece event will now go ahead with a soundtrack of pennies dropping about the need to hit lower, or face significant consequences. It will also go ahead with a reduced sense of outrage among players from certain nations that others with money are given preferential treatment.
Yet, the process has been awful. It has taken so long and tarnished the game’s reputation. Vital credibility has been lost, again – and it will be hard to win it back in a hurry.
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