OWEN FARRELL’S red-carding during England’s World Cup warm-up match against Wales on Saturday has been overturned by an independent judicial committee which met via video link earlier today [Tuesday].
The stand-off was sent-off for a high-tackle on Taine Basham and appeared before the panel to answer the charge that he committed an act of foul play contrary to Law 9.13, which states that a player must not tackle an opponent early, late or dangerously. Dangerous tackling includes, but is not limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders.
The player acknowledged that whilst he had committed an act of foul play, he denied that the act was worthy of a red card. After reviewing all the evidence, questioning the player in detail and hearing submissions from the player’s representative, the Committee (consisting of Adam Casselden SC as Chair, John Langford and David Croft, who are all Australian) 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 determined, when applying World Rugby’s Head Contact Process, that mitigation should be applied to the high degree of danger found by the Foul Play Review Officer,” said a statement issued by Six Nations Rugby. “The Committee found that a late change in dynamics due to England #2’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.
“On that basis, the Committee did not uphold the red card and the player is free to play again immediately.”
🧐 I'm struggling to see the 'sudden and significant change in direction' in Basham's carry from George's actions that would really result in Owen Farrell making a dangerous tackle here
He is launching from the start and making a bad tackle regardless.
A precedent has been set. pic.twitter.com/bBhCTJfEwT
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) August 15, 2023
Whilst rejecting the findings of the Foul Play Review Officer, the disciplinary committee insisted that it was not explicitly or implicitly criticising that decision or the person that made it.
“The Committee believe it is important to record, that no criticism is made of the Foul Play Review Officer nor, would any be warranted,” said the statement. “Unlike the Foul Play Review Officer the Committee had the luxury of time to deliberate and consider, in private, the incident and the proper application of the Head Contact Process. The Committee believe this is in contrast to the Foul Play Review Officer, who was required to make his decision in a matter of minutes without the benefit of all the additional material including hearing from the player and his legal representative.”
It is hard to see how this final statement does not undermine the credibility and value of Foul Play Review Officers generally, who were introduced for this summer series to aid referees in deciding whether a red or yellow card is merited in situations such as this.
Under this new process, referees remain the lead decision maker during games, but they have the option to refer any foul play incident where a red card is not clear and obvious to a dedicated Foul Play Review Officer [FPRO] situated within the Bunker and the player leaves the field of play for 10 minutes.
The FPRO then has up to eight minutes to review the incident using all available technology and footage, before communicating the decision to the in-play officiating team, so that the referee can either award the player a yellow card (meaning the player returns to the action following their 10-minute sin bin) or a red card (meaning the player stays off the field permanently and is not replaced).
Farrell is the third high-profile player to have faced the possibility of a suspension which would have ruled him out of some or all of the World Cup, only to be exonerated or handed a surprisingly short ban.
Johnny Sexton was handed a three-match ban last month after he admitted misconduct and a disciplinary committee found his behaviour to be “confrontational and aggressive towards and disrespectful of” the match officials following Leinster’s Champions Cup final loss to La Rochelle at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in May. That means he misses Ireland’s there World Cup warm-up matches but is available for their tournament opener against Romania on 9th September.
Meanwhile, Scotland prop Zander Fagerson was sent-off for the second-time in two years for a dangerous ruck clear-out against France two weekends ago, and was suspended for three matches reduced to two if he completes a ‘Coaching Intervention Programme’. That is two matches less than the suspension he received after being sent off against Wales in February 2021.
World Rugby and a lot of fans will be delighted that these stars have a chance to compete on the game’s biggest stage.