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What Clive Woodward makes of the shock Owen Farrell England sabbatical

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

Former England boss Clive Woodward has given his verdict on the midweek revelation that Owen Farrell has made himself unavailable for his country’s upcoming Guinness Six Nations campaign.

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The Saracens out-half led the English to a bronze medal finish at France 2023 but has now opted out of Steve Borthwick’s squad to prioritise his and his family’s mental well-being.

It’s a development that Woodward, the 2003 World Cup-winning coach, has labelled as a “brave and correct decision”, suggesting that recent criticism, which included the booing of Farrell at the World Cup, was unjust.

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Writing in his latest Sportsmail column, Woodward said: “For whatever reason, he has never had the praise he has deserved. In fact, he has ended up being criticised a lot – often personally and unjustly. I wonder whether that has had an impact…

“The subsequent targeting of him was way over the top and totally uncalled for. That was summed up when he was booed at the World Cup. For a player who has given so much, that was unforgivable.”

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Woodward went on to suggest that the decision of Farrell to step away from international rugby for the Six Nations and focus solely on playing for Saracens could lead the way for other England players to take a break from the relentless pressures of Test rugby.

“I hope, with the decision made and the outpouring of support he has received, Farrell can now look ahead with new-found freedom. I hope Farrell sets the tone and inspires new thinking in this area. Why is taking a sabbatical not more common?

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“Let’s be brutally honest. There is nobody at the RFU who would have a clue how to help or advise Farrell when he needs it most. No doubt they will blame others – especially the media – and create another nameless committee to investigate and put forward their thoughts with zero accountability.

“Meanwhile, Farrell will probably be left to work it out for himself. That is so wrong. The RFU and other international sides should look at Farrell’s situation with real concern but as an opportunity to better support players. The world’s best businesses build sabbaticals into their HR processes as paid leave. Why not rugby?”

Woodward ended his column by claiming: “I really hope this is not the last we have seen of him at Test level. Here’s hoping the break does him the world of good and he can return to the international game when he is good and ready.

“Andy Farrell is hotly tipped to lead the 2025 Lions to Australia. Oh, how I would love to see his son make one more tour alongside his father.”

  • Click here to read the Clive Woodward Sportsmail column in full
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