LONDON :England captain Owen Farrell has avoided a suspension after his red card in Saturday’s 19-17 win over Wales was surprisingly overturned on Tuesday after a hearing ruled that a late change of direction by the ball carrier contributed to the high contact.
Farrell was sent off – an initial yellow card upgraded to red via the new review system – after smashing his shoulder into the face of Wales forward Taine Basham in the sort of no-arms tackle that earned him a four-game ban earlier this season when playing for Saracens.
He was widely expected to get at least another four-game suspension, ruling him out of England’s two remaining warm-ups against Ireland and Fiji and their first two World Cup pool games against Argentina and Japan.
However, Farrell argued that the offence was worthy of only a yellow card and the independent judicial committee agreed.
“After reviewing all the evidence… the committee concluded that the Foul Play Review Officer was wrong, on the balance of probabilities, to upgrade the yellow card issued to the player to a red card,” the committee said in a statement.
“The Committee found that a late change in dynamics due to England number two’s interaction in the contact area brought about a sudden and significant change in direction from the ball carrier. In the Committee’s opinion, this mitigation was sufficient to bring the player’s act of foul play below the red car threshold.
“The committee believe it is important to record that no criticism is made of the Foul Play Review Officer nor, would any be warranted. Unlike the Foul Play Review Officer the committee had the luxury of time to deliberate and consider, in private, the incident.”
The “bunker review” system has been recently introduced to try to avoid red cards for dangerous-looking incidents that, on closer video inspection, are deemed not worthy of such a punishment.
Referees can now issue a yellow card and a TMO has 10 minutes to decide whether to upgrade it to a red or allow the player to return to the action.
Basham was forced to leave the field with concussion and now faces his own battle to be passed fit to play in the World Cup.
Former Wales player Alix Popham, who was diagnosed with early onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in 2020, said that Farrell should be given a long ban to send a message about player welfare.
“It was a shocking challenge,” Popham told the Times on Tuesday. “Farrell keeps doing it, so he’s clearly not learnt from going to World Rugby’s tackle school. The bans that are being put in place for foul play are not stringent enough.
“Something has to be done because the system which is currently in place clearly isn’t working. The way to tackle the problem and consequences of head-high challenges causing traumatic brain injuries to the victims is by putting an effective deterrent in place to rid rugby of the problem.”