World Rugby is appealing the controversial decision to downgrade Owen Farrell’s red card against Wales – which could put the England captain’s availability for the start of the World Cup next month back in doubt.
England have put back their team announcement regarding the XV to face Ireland on Saturday from 12pm to 4pm.
The appeal hearing will be organised by the Six Nations, with World Rugby to be represented by their in-house legal team as the appellants.
It is hoped that the hearing will be held before England’s match in Dublin.
World Rugby said it hadconfirmed to the RFU and Six Nations Rugby that it would exercise its right to appeal following a careful review of the independent Judicial Committee’sfull written decision received on Wednesday
“World Rugby fully supports the important role that an independent disciplinary process plays in upholding the integrity and values of the sport, particularly regarding foul play involving head contact,” it said in a statement.“Player welfare is the sport’s number one priority, and the Head Contact Process is central to that mission at the elite level of the sport.
“Having considered the full written decision, World Rugby considers an appeal to be warranted.In line with provisions set out under Regulation 17, an independent Appeal Committee will be appointed to determine the matter at the earliest possible opportunity.”
More disruption for England
There has been widespread condemnation of the decision not to impose a sanction on the England captain, who wasshown a red card for a dangerous tackle to the head of Wales forward Taine Basham in the second half of England’s victory at Twickenham last Saturday.
The appeal will cause further disruption to England’s preparations to face the No 1 side in the world, but if it is successful it would leave Farrell facing a potential ban of five or six weeks, depending on mitigating factors.
Key to the appeal will be establishing if mistakes were made in the original disciplinary hearing, with a focus on whether the mitigation was correctly applied in downgrading the ban. World Rugby received the written judgement on Wednesday and has 48 hours to decide its next step.
There are several precedents of World Rugby intervening into disciplinary hearings, the latest when the governing body charged Joe Marler with misconduct in 2016 for comments to Wales prop Samson Lee after the Six Nations decided not to take any action.
In a statement during the hearing, Farrell explained that he felt he should have been given a yellow card due to the mitigating factors of Jamie George’s earlier tackle attempt on Wales’ Taine Basham before Farrell made contact.
Farrell, giving evidence, explained that he originally set himself for contact that would give himself enough space to his right “to effect a good [legal] tackle”, and that he did not “anticipate or foresee that [Basham] and [George] would get involved with each other whereby [Basham] would be propelled sideways (across/diagonally) and towards him”.
Adding that Basham’s sudden movement meant that Farrell “did not have enough time and space to try and get his head out of the way”, Farrell said that his head position was a “a subconscious reaction to [Basham’s] body being propelled across him”.
The panel noted that Farrell delivered his evidence in “a measured and thoughtful manner”. In their findings they concluded that Farrell was “clearly in breach of Law 9.13 by performing a dangerous upright tackle” and has performed “a reckless tackle”, with a high degree of danger and sufficient degree of force.
Discussing why the panel found there was mitigation, they explained that the Foul Play Review Officer was “in error by omitting to consider the late change in dynamics due to [George’s] interactions”, which led to Basham’s “sudden and significant change in direction” and “denied [Farrell] both the time and space to adjust to avoid head contact”.
They added: “In our opinion, it would be placing an unreasonable burden on [Farrell] to expect him to anticipate, foresee or predict, in the limited time available to him, this late change in dynamics.”
Farrell had already been withdrawn from the firing line by head coach Steve Borthwick despite being cleared to play with immediate effect by the Six Nations independent disciplinary hearing on Tuesday, with George Ford set to start against Ireland in Dublin on Saturday.
Due to the appeal Marcus Smith will be on the bench, although the likelihood is that Farrell would be left out of the squad in any case.
Borthwick faced an unenviable choice ahead of his team selection given the uncertainty and considering the emotional state of Farrell and the focus he put into the disciplinary committee hearing at the starting of the training week — and the potential for distraction against a side coached by his father, Andy.
Farrell not in starting XV plans for Ireland game
It is understood that all England’s team planning this week has worked on the basis that Farrell will not start, with Ford to take the No 10 shirt. There is a possibility that Farrell could still be named on the bench given the complexity of the situation. World Rugby is understood to be considering making an appeal against the disciplinary hearing but that will not be known until Thursday at the earliest.
It is thought there is a sense that it would be prudent not to involve Farrell given the focus he put into the disciplinary committee hearing and the potential for distraction given England are playing the No 1 rated team in the world.
Courtney Lawes is in line to captain the side against Ireland in Farrell’s absence, having deputised after the England fly-half’s red card in the second half of the victory against Wales at Twickenham.
Farrell will likely be devastated by the prospect of missing playing against Ireland, who are coached by his father, Andy.
The prospect of potentially missing out on what could be his last World Cup is thought to have resulted in a sleepless night on Saturday following his red card, with sources suggesting that no-one took the implications of his tackle more seriously than the player himself. “He takes this extremely seriously,” said one source. “He made a mistake and feels terrible about it. However, it was not deliberate, and he is more determined than ever to show his commitment to safe but strong tackling”.
Some have criticised the disciplinary hearing conclusion, but some have also backed it. Eddie Jones, the former England coach, backed the decision to downgrade his red card, describing it as “common sense”.
“Owen’s an aggressive player,” Jones said. “With everything tightening up, the margin of error is so small and what can look like a bad tackle can just be a slight error of judgment. I’m glad they used common sense. We want the game to be safer, but we’ve got to use our common sense.
“I would never like to see a player banned for a World Cup, unless it was a piece of foul play that was massively intentional. In today’s game, how often do you see that? It’s an absolute rarity. For a physical contact game, it’s remarkably clean. When players do make contact with the head, it’s usually because of an error in judgment, it’s not a malicious intent.
“When I was with England, Owen talked about tackle technique and what he could do to make his tackling less susceptible to the referee intervening. There are small margins of error.”
Ford: ‘Just a rugby incident’
Ford, who impressed during his cameo at fly-half, helping guiding England to an unlikely victory after they trailed by eight points with just 12 players on the pitch, described the decision on Farrell as “brilliant news”.
“Obviously he’s our captain and a brilliant player for us,” said Ford. “Now it’s all over we can crack on as normally really and do everything we can as a squad of players to keep pulling in the right direction.
“You just don’t know what the outcome is going to be until the end of the process. For us as players, we understand the support we get. We’ve got a KC [Richard Smith] who’s brilliant at his job but there are lots of ins and outs to any circumstance that happens in a game.
“One thing I would say, things happen so much more quickly on the field than for people in the stands or watching on television. Again, I noticed that at the weekend, you’re sat on the bench watching the game and you think you have a good picture of what is going on and then you get out there in the middle and it’s 100mph from all directions. There are these instances that are going to happen and with Basham handing Jamie off and quickly going into Owen’s channel, that would have happened so much quicker. So no, not a surprise. Just a rugby incident.”
Borthwick is expected to name another strong starting XV, with Jack Willis likely to have his first appearance of the summer in the back row and Ollie Chessum set to start after his ankle surgery in March, with Jack Walker also expected to start at hooker. Manu Tuilagi however is thought to be facing a fitness battle after picking up a knock last week, which could see England retaining the midfield of Ollie Lawrence and Joe Marchant.
Ireland are expected to name a full strength side, keen to avenge the 2019 rout by England at Twickenham ahead of the World Cup in Japan which derailed their preparations.
Telegraph readers weighed in on the debate, here.