Steve Borthwick said Owen Farrell had been subjected to “personal attacks” as the England captain was again forced to face the possibility of missing the start of the Rugby World Cup.
Fly-half Farrell could be up before another disciplinary panel as soon as next week, after World Rugby announced Thursday it would appeal against the decision to overturn his red card for a head-high tackle on Taine Basham in England’s 19-17 warm-up win over Wales at Twickenham last weekend.
Borthwick had wanted — and was free — to select Farrell, 31, for the warm-up game with Ireland, the world’s top-rankled side, in Dublin on Saturday.
But such was the disruption Farrell had suffered, former England captain Borthwick left him out his matchday 23 entirely, with George Ford now starting at stand-off instead.
Ireland coach Andy Farrell slammed much of the commentary surrounding son Owen by saying “the circus that’s gone on, in and around all of this, is absolutely disgusting, in my opinion, disgusting”.
Borthwick was not as blunt, but his feelings were clear.
“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 after announcing his side. “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.”
Borthwick, clearly surprised at Farrell’s case being re-opened, added: “One of the most experienced and senior panels that deal with these matters dealt with it on Tuesday. We thought it was the conclusion.
“Now, another panel is being convened to try and find some holes in what was done on Tuesday. Again, we will conduct ourselves in a manner that respects the process.
“The final two weeks of our World Cup preparation are going to be disrupted by this matter.”
England, losing finalists in 2019, have one further warm-up game, against Fiji on August 26, but the concern now is Farrell could miss their key opening World Cup pool match against Argentina in Marseille on September 9.
Farrell, who has been suspended before for dangerous tackling, was sent off after the ‘bunker’ review system upgraded an initial yellow card to red after he made contact with a shoulder-led tackle to the head of Basham.
But an all-Australian disciplinary panel caused uproar on Tuesday by concluding the foul play review officer “was wrong, on the balance of probabilities, to upgrade the yellow card issued to the player to a red card.” It ruled Farrell was free to play again immediately.
England’s Steve Thompson, the 2003 World Cup-winning hooker diagnosed with dementia and now among several former players taking legal action against governing bodies for negligence, told the Daily Mail: “For (the rugby authorities) to have the spotlight on them so much, about all the concussion and brain injuries, and for them to do this now, just goes to show that they don’t care.”
But former England coach Eddie Jones, now in charge of Australia, defended the “aggressive” Farrell by saying: “What can look like a bad tackle can just be a slight error of judgment.
He added: “We want the game to be safer, but we’ve got to use our common sense.”
World Rugby have yet to make their grounds for appeal public, but they could argue Farrell has fallen foul of guidelines stating there is no mitigation for “always illegal acts of foul play”.
Farrell received a three-match ban for the same offence in January, on top of five matches in 2020 and two in 2016.
But although Farrell admitted to the panel he had struck Basham’s head, the video hearing decided a “late change in dynamics” due to Jamie George’s involvement in the contact area “brought about a sudden and significant change in direction from the ball carrier”.
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