Owen Farrell faced a disciplinary hearing last night, after the red card he received over the weekend. He received a five match ban. All considered, this is far too short.
What Owen Farrell got is fair in accordance to the laws, there is no mistaking that. The initial entry level punishment the committee agreed on was ten weeks. Thus, they deemed it a stiff arm and not just a high tackle. There is a harsher punishment for that than a tackle to head or neck. This was mitigated down to five weeks.
Is this an example of favouritism?
Some of the reasons for mitigation are fair enough. He does have a history of dangerous tackles, but has rarely been carded for them. This counts in his favour. The testimony of Eddie Jones and his off the field charity work were taken into account as well, which are far more dubious reasons. Those reasons do have the reek of favouritism from the RFU, who do not want the England captain to miss too many matches.
However, the problem with the ban is not the possible favouritism. It is not the fact that Farrell does have a history of dangerous or foul play, without it being punished. Nor is it that he should receive a harsher punishment precisely because he is England’s captain and even more can be expected of him. It is in the punishment for what it was and the consequence of it.
A high tackle alone carries with it a mid range sentence, with a minimum of six weeks. The entry point of ten weeks assumed by the panel suggests they ruled this not as a tackle to the head, but a stiff arm or strike to the head. Of course this should be punished more harshly, but he ended up getting a sentence less than the minimum for the other.
Graduated Return to Play Protocol
What should have been a bigger consideration is the consequence of the action. This is where the punishment simply does not fit the crime. Charlie Atkinson was knocked out and has a severe concussion. As he is a young lad, he could recover quicker then some. On the other hand, there is also a greater risk factor for him because of his young age. It is for that reason that the Graduated Return to Play Protocol recommends a two week rest period, rather than the one week for adults.
Under the GRtP Protocol, he will not train for at least two weeks. After that, he will gradually return to training. Assuming a progression of one step a week, it will be another four weeks before he is ready to play again. This would mean he is sidelined for six weeks at the very least. Technically there can be 24 hours between each stage, but this rarely happens.
Owen Farrell got off lightly
It is then strange that Owen Farrell serves a ban that is shorter than the minimum time it would take for the victim of his foul play to return to playing. This baffles the mind. It is especially baffling when World Rugby is trying to stamp out concussions and foul play causing it. It is also baffling when considering that Owen Farrell is England captain and could be Lions captain next year.
In court, judges weigh the sentence against the consequences of the action. Which is precisely what has not happened here. There is a strong suggestion here the importance of Owen Farrell for England has outweighed the damage he has done to an adolescent player. And that is something that, for the sake of all players around the country, should never even be a thought in the back of their minds. No one should ever think that an action that dangerous can be punished more leniently because the player plays for a certain team, has a certain name, identity, family or friends. It should not happen.
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