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THE BREAKDOWN, STEVE SCOTT: Scotland game is the least important element of another lax disciplinary decision for Owen Farrell

England captain Owen Farrell has been banned for another dangerous tackle, but may still make the Six Nations.
England captain Owen Farrell has been banned for another dangerous tackle, but may still make the Six Nations.

Well, the best that can be said for the Owen Farrell disciplinary hearing this week is at least they didn’t congratulate him for his continuing ‘good record’.

The England captain’s citing for yet another dangerous hit in last weekend’s game against Gloucester resulted in a lengthy hearing.

And – yet again – a laughably lax ban of four games. Just three if he goes to what is hilariously referred to as ‘tackle school’.

We’ll get to that risible addition to rugby’s already tortured lexicon later. In the meantime, Farrell, who should have been facing a six-game ban given his awful record of these dangerous high hits, could be clear to play in the Six Nations.

Farrell playing against Scotland or not is NOT the issue here

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first – I don’t really care if Farrell plays against Scotland in the opening game or not. There’s a good argument that his presence actually favours the Scots, for two reasons.

The first is that even if Steve Borthwick plays fast and loose with what is a “meaningful game” and Farrell plays on February 4, he’s going to be coming in seriously undercooked. He won’t have played for nearly a month.

Give him the 10 shirt under those circumstances? Sure, go right ahead.

Secondly, Farrell’s actually been pretty poor against Scotland in recent games.

The Scots successfully targeting him in the second half in the famous game in 2019 was a major reason for the epochal comeback. In 2020, it was George Ford at 10 who really piloted England to their only win over Scotland in their last five meetings.

In 2021, he played at 10 and was dreadful. Scotland should have won by 20 points that day. Last year, he was missing injured and the Scots won 20-17, but they were a wee bit lucky. You could convince me that was England’s best display against Scotland since 2017.

So my distaste for this is not in the least predicated on Scotland ‘avoiding’ Farrell. I don’t think it makes that much of a difference, really.

It’s not complacency this time, it’s blatant evasion

No, the problem is that this decision vividly illustrates rugby’s recurring problem with head injuries.

It’s not complacency that’s the issue here, although that does happen in the game far too much.

This is a separate but similarly common issue, a barefaced example of circumventing proper rules and basic safety practice to ensure an important player does not miss a crucial game.

We see this all the time in players being fielded just days after suffering obvious head trauma. Now we see it in the actual disciplinary process to ensure an prominent player does not miss an important game.

Could there be any better illustration that rugby is not remotely serious about curbing dangerous high hits to the head? Well yes, it’s that “tackle school”.

Rather like the serial speeder who can avoid a driving ban if they take a education course, World Rugby has instigated the Coaching Intervention Panel.

The aim is, using the official WR jargon, “amplifying awareness of the importance of technique and encouraging players and coaches to practice tackle technique that carries a statistically lower injury risk, reducing the number of red cards over time.”

This is done – not joking here – by use of video with one of the player’s own coaches conducting the session. If successful, the player’s ban is reduced.


First of all, does anyone seriously think a Saracens coach is going to fail Farrell on this?

Secondly, WR has been on about encouraging safe technique for coaches and players for a decade now. And still the hits come in far too high, players still get banned and concussed. You’d think by now they might have come up with a better way of enforcement, but no.

Thirdly, Owen Farrell is 31. He has 107 caps for England and six for the Lions. He was the youngest-ever player in English professional rugby when he made his Saracens debut at 17. His father Andy, now head coach of Ireland, has long been one of world rugby’s best regarded defensive gurus, in both codes.

Seriously, you’re sending someone who is possibly the most practiced defensive player in the entire world game back to ‘tackle school’ thinking he’s going to learn something?

It’s ludicrous.

Far from establishing something that will aid education and teach players not to hit high, ‘tackle school’ is just another tool to circumvent proper punishment for dangerous play. Repeatedly dangerous, in Farrell’s case.

And once again, it’s clear and compelling evidence that rugby is, shamefully,  just not really serious about safety.

Gregor’s job hunt

A couple of things spring to mind with the coaching intrigue around Scotland this past week.

To recap briefly, Gregor Townsend was reported in the usually-reliable Midi Olympique rugby newspaper to have applied for France’s attack coach job when his Scotland contract expires after the World Cup.

We might be concerned that this and attack coach AB Zondagh’s abrupt departure have emerged just days out from the Six Nations. But that’s probably unavoidable.

This is contract negotiation season, and it’s part of rugby’s messed-up calendar that it falls just as the most important annual tournament of the year is imminent.

Townsend is now apparently actively seeking a post away from Murrayfield after the World Cup ends.

Regular readers will know I believe Gregor should move on. He or Mark Dodson might think the same. It might even be a mutual parting.

There’s no word from EH12, where they won’t comment on “speculation”. One would hope they’re well advanced on securing a replacement.

But I’m equally intrigued that Gregor doesn’t seem to have an obvious landing spot at a big French or English club.

Head coach of Scotland for six years, attack coach with the Lions, well-regarded (at least he was) abroad?

Ending up just one of Fabien Galthie’s assistants? Seems very odd.