Owen Farrell Ban: Why Sport Should Be Fighting For Victims Over Perpetrators

Future subjects of poor tackle technique are not being protected
15:00, 24 Aug 2023

He was banned, then he wasn’t, now he is again. If the Owen Farrell saga has left you feeling dizzy, get used to it as sport continues to drag its heels over the implementation of long-needed checks and balances over concussion.

The England rugby union captain had his ban for a high shot on Wales’ Taine Basham reinstated on Tuesday of this week after World Rugby appealed the findings of a judicial committee which had claimed that Farrell’s red card on August 12 was unjust. His initial six-game suspension, though, was downgraded to four matches.

The fact is that Farrell turned his shoulder into Basham’s chin with an unwrapped motion in what passed for a ‘tackle’. Somehow, the judicial committee came to the conclusion that he would have been fine but for the close attention of England hooker Jamie George, who initially attempted to bring down Basham.


The Welshman failed his resulting head injury assessment, making him unfit to play the rest of the match although he was thankfully passed for selection for the following weekend’s clash with South Africa.

When he was eventually banned by the appeal committee this week, Farrell received a two-game discount on the minimum six-match tariff normally considered for such foul play thanks to a strange rewriting of the whole episode.

“In considering sanction, the committee applied World Rugby’s mandatory minimum mid-range entry point for foul play resulting in contact with the head (six matches). Taking all considerations into account, including the player’s acceptance of foul play, clear demonstration of remorse and his good character, the committee agreed a four-match suspension.”

If Farrell accepted that there was foul play, who decided to take the case to a judicial committee on his behalf? What was the evidence of his remorse, beyond extending a disciplinary process over a clear high shot caused by poor tackle technique? And is the ‘good character’ assertion made without taking into account that this is Farrell’s third ban in three years for very similar offences?

Those four matches he is banned for include one which has already happened too, with last week’s encounter with Ireland counting for one of the games after the fly-half voluntarily stood down for what appears like the sole purpose of manipulating the inevitable appeal result to such a level that he could be available for England’s third World Cup fixture rather than their fourth.

There is a clear need to stamp out actions which can result in avoidable concussions across all sports. Rugby league and rugby union alike are having internal philosophical battles over how best to police head contact without the disciplines losing their identity. So-called ‘soft’ red cards have helped to some degree, but there remains a grey area to address and a buy-in from all parties is needed regardless of the short-term pain for organisations, clubs and players that this may involve.

Even in football, the actions of Ange Postecoglou in removing Cristian Romero from the line of fire in Tottenham Hotspur’s draw with Brentford earlier this month are all too rare. And when authorities are busy picking the Australian up on an admin error which meant it didn’t count as a ‘free’ concussion substitution despite the obvious effects being felt by the player, sport is making itself look ridiculous in a situation which feels like it ought to be an easy-win.

Sports like rugby union need to be doing the right thing to protect their biggest assets, the players. And while Farrell falls under that category, so too does Taine Basham, who was attacked with a shoulder by the England skipper. As does Jack Clement, another victim of Farrell’s poor tackle technique in January which resulted in a three-match ban for his assailant. The same applies for former Wasps pair Charlie Atkinson and Dan Robson, both of whom have previously been on the receiving end of similar hits which have resulted in Farrell sitting out a total of seven games.

It is time for those left feeling the effects of flagrant fouls to be protected with the sort of vigour that high-profile perpetrators seem to receive as standard.

Farrell misses England’s World Cup clashes with Argentina and Japan but in truth he’s lucky he’s in line to play any part in the tournament in France. He could do with spending his time off refining a tackle technique which keeps on accumulating head injury victims, otherwise sport’s ability to look after its players could be back in the spotlight sooner than we would hope.


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