England coach Steve Borthwick says Owen Farrell target of ‘personal attacks’

By Sports Desk August 17, 2023

Steve Borthwick believes Owen Farrell has been the target of “personal attacks” as England’s captain once again confronts the possibility of missing the start of the World Cup.

Borthwick has joined Andy Farrell in defending the 31-year-old, who must face rugby’s judiciary for the second time in a week after World Rugby appealed against the decision to rescind his red card for a dangerous tackle on Wales’ Taine Basham.

Andy Farrell, the head coach of Saturday’s opponents Ireland, offered impassioned support of his son by declaring that “the circus that’s gone on in and around all of this is absolutely disgusting”.

Borthwick had intended to select Farrell for the Dublin clash but revised that plan amid the furious outcry over the original disciplinary hearing’s failure to impose a suspension.

Instead, George Ford lines-up as chief playmaker against the sport’s number-one ranked side with Marcus Smith providing cover off the bench.

Farrell has travelled to Ireland with the squad but will be a spectator only as Borthwick anticipates the additional turmoil that will now affect England’s World Cup preparations when the saga enters a second week.

“Unfortunately, given the disruption to his week and the intrusion in terms of his preparation, I made the decision to pull him out of the team that he would otherwise have led this weekend,” Borthwick said.

“The situation is one I find really disappointing. We thought we had reached a conclusion in this matter on Tuesday.

“It had an impact in terms of the disruption for this week and now it’s going to be ongoing into the next Test week.

“The situation with the England team – and Owen in particular – seems to be amplified.

“The commentary around it seems to move from issues around the tackle to personal attacks on the character of the man, which I think is just wrong.

“We all feel for him and we all feel it when one of our group is on the receiving end of such personal attacks – we all feel it.

“Owen has handled himself through this process in a really respectful manner. We will continue to respect the process and the decision that is reached.

“One of the most experienced and senior panels that deal with these matters dealt with it on Tuesday. We thought it was the conclusion.

“Now, another panel is being convened to try and find some holes in what was done on Tuesday. Again, we will conduct ourselves in a manner that respects the process.

“The final two weeks of our World Cup preparation are going to be disrupted by this matter.”

Farrell is in fresh danger of missing the pivotal World Cup opener against Argentina on September 9 with the potential for a six-week ban – the mid-range sanction for dangerous tackle offences – back on the horizon.

The Saracens fly-half received a yellow card in the 63rd minute of Saturday’s 19-17 victory over Wales but this was upgraded to red by the bunker review system, which is being trialled in the Summer Nations Series.

At Tuesday’s hearing the Saracens fly-half accepted that he had made contact with Basham’s head, that it was a dangerous tackle and that the degree of danger involved warranted a red card.

However, he successfully argued there was mitigation that made the offence worthy of a sin-binning only when Jamie’s George’s attempted tackle on Basham caused the Wales flanker into a sudden change in movement and drop in head height.

The PA news agency understands that World Rugby will look to prove that on the balance of probabilities the tackle was never legal and therefore no mitigation should have applied.

It is stated in World Rugby’s guidelines state mitigation does not apply for “always-illegal acts of foul play”.

Farrell’s absence means that Courtney Lawes leads a starting XV that is close to full strength, bolstered by the presence of wing Anthony Watson and centre Manu Tuilagi, who are making their first appearances of the warm-up fixtures.

Second row Ollie Chessum will make his comeback from the serious ankle injury sustained during the Six Nations when he appears off the bench.

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