OPINION: Whether it’s the England captain, a Pacific Islander or a player making his Premiership debut in the dock, the hit that got Owen Farrell sent off should be punished with at least a 10-week ban.
World Rugby changed its high tackle sanction framework precisely for incidents like this and it’s the type of tackle that they are rightly trying very hard to eradicate from the game.
Farrell is upright, out of control and flies in with a swinging arm intended to put Charlie Atkinson into next week or take his head off. It’s not just a mistimed tackle, it’s a horrific looking hit. He’s completely blindsided him.
You can look at it from every angle possible in terms of the incident itself and the regulations and framework but there is just no mitigation whatsoever.
It was reckless, it was intentional and premeditated to a certain extent because you could see his eyes lining him up. Atkinson was also in a vulnerable position and wasn’t dipping. All in all, it was a horrible looking tackle.
We knew this was going to happen at some point because of Farrell’s tackle technique and we’ve been saying it for some time. Admittedly, he hasn’t got one as wrong as this before but nobody is coaching players to tackle like this any more and they’re trying to coach this sort of technique out of players.
Farrell is always trying to make big hits and he tackles high so he knows himself that he’s treading a very fine line. Player safety is rightly paramount nowadays, though, and he’s out of control more than he’s in control when he’s tackling like that.
It absolutely shouldn’t matter that he’s Owen Farrell or that he’s the England captain when it comes to the disciplinary hearing this week. That goes both ways. He shouldn’t be made an example of just because of who he is but there definitely shouldn’t be any special leniency either.
If it was a Pacific Islander who was the guilty party, you would definitely have people calling for and even expecting the biggest ban possible. That isn’t right at all and it’s important that all players are judged equally.
We’ve seen questionable lengths of bans before but can you imagine if Farrell gets an eight-week ban and is free to play again just in time for England’s rearranged final Six Nations game against Italy? That wouldn’t look good.
McCall: “I watched it live but have not watched it on the video. He was chasing his own kick & was desperate to make a tackle & clearly got it wrong…'He works really hard on all parts of his game & he has improved in that area.' pic.twitter.com/nNJT8WvFX9
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 5, 2020
The new eight-team tournament that is replacing the autumn internationals is due to begin in 10 weeks and even then would seem a bit soon for a return in my mind.
The entry point for a lower end dangerous tackle is two weeks and for mid-range it is six weeks but this is clearly a top end offence for me so the entry point is 10+ weeks.
When it comes to determining the length of the ban, it obviously shouldn’t matter who the player on the receiving end was any more than it matters who Owen Farrell is but Charlie Atkinson was at school last year and I do think that’s a relevant point to make.
I’m a parent and I watch that in the context of considering whether I’d want my daughters to play rugby. Other parents will be doing the same and saying ‘no chance’.
Farrell did put his arm up straight after the incident to acknowledge his guilt and waited by the side of the pitch to check Atkinson was ok but that is irrelevant when it comes to the disciplinary process.
I’m sure he will show remorse in the hearing and he doesn’t have a chequered past when it comes to bans so any suspension is likely to be halved. I think that’s a ludicrous aspect of the system to be honest but that’s the case for everyone.
If I’m honest, I think we will see a top-end sanction in the region of 16 weeks and when that is reduced by 50 per cent we will see Farrell back in time for England’s fixtures in the autumn.
The people making the decision will have to forget who he is and the incidents that people think he may have got away with in the past and view this as an isolated incident but this is the exact tackle that we want removing from the game.
The independent disciplinary panel will give its view this week but for me it can’t just be a three or four-week ban. If it is, then frankly, you’re not providing a deterrent and you’re not showing players that you can’t tackle like that anymore.
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