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'It will now be trial by jury on social media... and it's wrong'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Bob Bradford/CameraSport via Getty Images)

Friday night’s controversy about Saracens No10 Owen Farrell made for riveting live TV viewing on BT Sport as former England internationals Austin Healey and Lawrence Dallaglio were left bemused by referee Karl Dickson’s decision not to review the potential red card tackle.

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There was 74:22 gone on the Gallagher Premiership clock when the right shoulder of recent England skipper Farrell collided with the head of the ball-carrying Jack Clement on the Gloucester ten-metre line.

After the ball carrier went to ground, the play was only stopped six phases later by the referee with the ball having gone into touch inside the Saracens 22 with 76:18 now on the clock.

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With Farrell going down injured for some treatment, the stoppage allowed BT to show a replay of the Saracens skipper’s tackle on Clement and it was only after this piece of footage was broadcast that TMO Claire Hodnett alerted referee Karl Dickson to what had taken place. Here is how the audio unfolded on TV:

Healey: “How have they not looked at that?”

Dallaglio: “Well, I think they will. They have to.”

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Healey: “They have to look at that.”

Hodnett: “Karl, foul play by Owen Farrell.”

Dickson: “Is it in the same phase of play? If you are not sure it is in the same phase of play we can’t look at that. If it is in the same phase of play we can look at it. If it’s not we can’t.”

Hodnett: “It was back on the Gloucester 22.”

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Dickson: “Was it in the same phase of play? If you can’t say we are going to play on.

Hodnett: I can’t tell you definitely.”

With play allowed to restart without any review of the suggested foul play, the match eventually culminated with Farrell landing the drop goal winner to seal Saracens’ 19-16 win. However, the post-match TV debate insisted the England out-half should not have been on the pitch to score the winning points and he now faces a likely citing and a ban that could threaten his availability for the opening match of the Six Nations versus Scotland on February 4.

Healey: “He will be cited, it’s a definite red card. That type of tackle we are trying to eradicate from the game. He wouldn’t have been on the field if it had been spotted earlier. It’s foul play, there is force. I don’t think there is much mitigation. There is not much dip in the tackle so for me, it’s a red card.”

Dallaglio: “It is foul play, that is a red card. Where we need clarification – and I am embarrassed to say – is we don’t know whether you can go back for foul play after a number of phases and that is the problem. I thought with foul play it doesn’t matter how many phases happen.”

Healey: “When Hodnett called it in, Karl said it wasn’t in the same phase which I don’t think is entirely right. I’m sure that the officials will look at it, how they adjudicated on it.”

Dallaglio: “There will be a lot of controversy around this. An outstanding player, no doubt. He is all smiles but he may not be all smiles when James Hall, the citing commissioner, has another look at it and probably cites him.”

Healey: “My thoughts were… if there is a clear indication of foul play and it’s a red card I think you can go back… There are new directives now trying to keep the pace of the game up and the interruptions of the TMO slightly down. Maybe there is some confusion over that because for me that is something they should have gone back to.”

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It was at this point in the broadcast, with Gloucester supporters in the background chanting ‘Same old Sarries, always cheating’, that the coverage broke away to an interview with George Skivington. The Gloucester coach opted not to comment directly on the Farrell incident but he instead referenced a sin-binning last week for his team which resulted in a two-game ban for Albert Tuisue as it was the No8’s third foul play yellow card this season.

Skivington: “Do you know what, I’m not allowed to comment on things like that but I do know we got a yellow card last week for something much lower level than that and frustrating probably is the word.”

It was when the broadcast now went back to the presenter Craig Doyle that a law clarification was provided, outlining that there was nothing to stop referee Dickson from reviewing the Farrell incident with his TMO as the play had not restarted since the ball went into touch.

Healey: “Hodnett got it absolutely right. As I said before, my belief was you could carry on playing and go back as many phases as you want until the game got started again. Claire called it in and Karl said was it in the last phase? She said no it wasn’t and he said well I can’t go back to it then, which was actually wrong.”

Dallaglio: “Had the game been restarted since it happened? No. It doesn’t matter how many phases, the game hadn’t been restarted. It was still in the same phase of play and really it should have been looked at. We all know what the outcome would have been and it might have been a better outcome for Owen Farrell and for the game because if he gets red-carded during the game, that is a sanction in itself and that carries a certain amount of weeks off.

“Now he is going to be cited for that because I am pretty sure the citing officer will have to step in and do something and it could be consequential not only for the individual who has been outstanding but also for England and the start of the Six Nations.”

The coverage now switched to an interview with Saracens boss Mark McCall, who insisted he wasn’t aware Farrell had put in a tackle that could have been red-carded.

McCall: “That’s news to me, actually… What you have said to me is completely news to me as you can see from my reaction.”

The programme next reverted to the BT pundits again, who wrapped up the commentary on the Farrell controversy that had dominated their commentary on the Saracens win.

Healey: “It seems such a shame that we are talking about this so much after what was an absolutely brilliant game.”

Dallaglio: “Also, Owen Farrell is a player we all think incredibly highly of. We were all waxing lyrically about him last week. By not dealing with the situation during the game it will now be trial by jury on social media and there are a lot of not England fans that love to have an attack and have a go at Owen Farrell.

“If the referee sanctions him on the field that doesn’t happen. Now it hasn’t happened, you watch this space, you watch what will happen this week and Owen Farrell will end up getting worse off and it is wrong. The player is an outstanding player who has made a bad misjudgement in his tackle and we all do that.”

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