There is no need for a witch-hunt, or mob outrage, or frenzied calls for an example to be made of Owen Farrell. But the laws must be applied and the punishment must be appropriate.
The England captain faces a disciplinary hearing by conference call on Tuesday evening, after being charged under World Rugby Law 9.13 for a dangerous tackle. This relates to Saturday’s incident at Allianz Park, when Farrell was sent off for an indefensible swinging arm to the head of teenage Wasps replacement Charlie Atkinson.
In theory, the minimum sanction that the fly-half can receive is a six-week ban, for what is deemed to be a mid-range offence. However, judicial panels can — ludicrously — reduce the recommended sentence by up to 50 per cent. Farrell has limited ‘previous’, having served just one, two-week ban in his career to date, so there is a strong chance that he may have his initial ban halved.
Saracens star Owen Farrell was sent off as the relegated side suffered a humbling defeat
The England international was given his marching orders for a high tackle on Charlie Atkinson
Furthermore, while suspensions are still officially classified by the number of weeks, in practice now they relate to a number of matches. Saracens play twice in the Premiership before their momentous Heineken European Cup quarter-final against Leinster in Dublin. Barring any legal trickery, there is no way that Farrell can hope to appear in that fixture.
That is because there is no question of guilt. The offender knows it. He knew it a split-second after his right arm made sickening contact with Atkinson’s head, as the ball-carrier was blind-sided and crudely flattened. Farrell lay with his hands raised, then with his head in his hands, before saying ‘I know, I know’ as referee Christophe Ridley told him his actions were unacceptable, as he reached for the red card. He knew it as he waited by the touchline to apologise to his groggy victim.
In the volatile court of social media opinion, an 80-90 per cent majority condemned Farrell, while a few claimed this was a fuss over nothing. But it is not nothing. It is far from nothing. If rugby is serious about eradicating the spectre of head injuries and concussions, there must be severe consequences for those who over-step the line.
The England captain's dismissal took the attention off a notable win by a young Wasps side
Atkinson did not dip before he was hit. Farrell lined him up and simply aimed too high. He was fired up as his side chased the game and wanted to make a statement tackle. Of course he didn’t intend to strike the head, but intent is not a factor. He has been reprieved before and coaches have talked about working on his tackle technique, but this incident showed that he still loses control.
It was an appalling, wild, reckless act of aggression. Saracens and England need Farrell in his warrior mode to inspire them, but they also need him to keep his head and he didn’t on this occasion, so there have to be significant consequences.
As usual in these situations, the cynic imagines that a Pacific islander, Argentine or Georgian found guilty of such an offence would have the book thrown at them. So rugby’s judiciary - too often a laughing stock - is on trial tomorrow too. There must be uniformity of verdicts and no whiff of old establishment bias.
The verdict is unlikely to impact on England, but Saracens will suffer, at the end of a drawn-out season of so much suffering.
Full credit to Exeter
Exeter have become a relentless machine. They have given up losing. The mental resilience of Rob Baxter’s Chiefs - as well as their squad depth - was showcased again in Friday’s win by their reserve line-up at Northampton.
They left it late, but they found a way, as they invariably do. Exeter are 13 points clear at the top of the Premiership table and appear to be hell-bent on setting such towering standards that no-one would dare attach an asterisk next to a potential title success, just because Saracens were penalised out of the running.
Credit too must go to Wasps’ outstanding 2nd XV as they beat the soon-to-be deposed champions. Their positive attitude was summed up by Ben Vellacott’s quick tap penalty with 40 minutes on the clock, when he could have just kicked the ball out, but instead earned another penalty.. And the handling by some of the visiting forwards was masterful. Lee Blackett deserves huge credit for how he has reignited