RWC23: Owen Farrell’s red-card is rescinded

Player acknowledged that whilst he had committed an act of foul play, he denied that the act was worthy of a red card.  

England captain Owen Farrell's red-card against Wales has been rescinded. Image: © Craig Watson -
England captain Owen Farrell's red-card against Wales has been rescinded. Image: © Craig Watson -

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.

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“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.”


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.

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About David Barnes 3663 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. Owen Farrell, it seems, may yet be knocked down! The World Rugby top organise is looking now on the Farrell case – either still escape or now knocked down on some weeks!!!

  2. I was astonished by this decision, as there were only discussions in the media about how long his ban might be, no challenge to the red card. I hope the appeal is considered more realistically.

  3. sounding like there will indeed be an appeal, new hearing this week. Hope they hold one for the 3 not so wise monkeys who sat in judgement on the first one

  4. In rugby much as in the rest of life if you get a top-notch expensive lawyer you can be innocent of most things. They will normally run rings around the average prosecutor facing them. Witness Michael Vaughan (the only one of the defendants in the recent ECB racism case with a highly paid barrister) being the only one apparently not guilty of racism. Then there are the countless celebrities with expensive lawyers who never ever break the speed limit.

    In short it stinks and World Rugby need to appeal and spend as much money as is necessary to put a proper case for the prosecution or they will show themselves to be totally uninterested in the health and well-being of those playing the sport.

    • It’s only the rich countries that can afford expensive KCs. The end result is bias in the game that leads to extreme frustration in the poorer countries. Rugby is the poorer for this disparity.

  5. as read elsewhere, this was always a distinctly possible outcome when you appoint 3 Aussies to the disc panel. The union who brought us the 20min red card, because the Aussie media tell them that spoiling the match spectacle (does it?) is far more important than player safety

  6. Been watching some of the YouTube channels on this and OF is actually going up into the tackle when he’s actually bent enough at the knees and hips to go low. Or just simply not change his height – but no, shoulder first from a rising position. George’s presence doesn’t mitigate any of this so just unbelievable how the result was arrived at. Hope that for the greater good of rugby, WRU appeals. If not, the whole player welfare agenda is consigned to lip service. And in all the focus on OF’s cheap and dirty shot, what about Steward’s “tackle” on Josh Adams? No attempt to compete for the ball, actually tries to wrap his arms around Adams legs while he’s still in the air and does nothing to avoid the contact. Can’t understand why that wasn’t red too and seen more debatable challenges end with a ban. I really struggle to understand these decisions, no consistency applied and no prioritizing player safety.

    • Can’t agree more ref Steward tackle on Adams. England are very”lucky” to heading to the WRC with both of these players.
      This episode clearly shows the bias and chaotic decision making process rampant in World Rugby currently. I am certainly not advocating that Zander Fagerson should have been given a slap on the wrist but at least the decision made by the ref and the team in the review bunker wasn’t questioned and politicised.
      In an earlier post I said that I was losing my love of the game and this is a sentiment that seems to be echoed in other posts that I have seen online. Not good PR when trying to expand the game, encourage player safety and make the game more popular with a whole range of demographics.
      yours, fed up with the whole farrago

  7. Basham out for a precautionary couple of weeks, while Farrell sails on regardless.

    Can’t WR appeal the rescinding of the England skipper’s red card?

    • the disc officer who brought the charge can appeal. And must do so. This decision is simply not just wrong but indefensible and throws WR player welfare into total disarray and leaves refs and TMOs etc in absolute uncertainty over what is a red card offence
      It also provides wonderful evidence of lack of proper care for the coming lawsuits.

  8. This is an outrage the relevant bodies need to intervene and set the record straight for the sake of the game.
    I smell a huge Rat and belive me every opposition will single him out to force the same poor tackling technique to get him off the pitch.

    • Will Borthwick “wrap OF in cotton wool” and not play him on sat as a means of protecting him from the anger felt both on and off the pitch?

  9. Very sad for young folk playing who may think that this type of tackle is acceptable and it will go unpunished only to find someone suffers a severe HIT. Its a bad day for the Unions especially for fair minded England supporters who are disgusted and shocked at this bizarre decision. Farell has always played on the edge but this was a tackle to far. No duty to safety of players overall a very sad day.

    • Whether Farrell got a ban or not one things for sure… we’ll all be here again talking the same points in the near future….( though I hope for many reasons we won’t be!)

    • He already has, the young then Wasps player Charlie Atkinson. Smashed in the face.

      Farrell is simply a thug. It’s happened far too often for it to be anything else.

  10. This is unbelievable and a total disgrace. It is 100% a red card. Sometimes you look at other incidents and see potential ‘mitigating’ factors but there is zero with this one. You can see the Welsh attacker running straight at OF and George has very limited effect on changing the ball carrier’s running line. OF doesn’t lower his height at all which is always something the ref mentions when reviewing these.

    Shame we didn’t have the same panel when Grant G got sent off in that double tackle against France in 6N??

    • Perhaps the single most telling thing is that he tucks his right arm in – that’s intent, even if not a conscious decision….

  11. When have you ever heard of an England player being unavailable for an important match or tournament due to suspension…..simple answer…..NEVER. This case is a total disgrace and brings the game into disrepute!

  12. Gosh world rugby smells rotten doesn’t it? They have really crucified the officials as has been said previously. Will they now realise the error of their ways and hammer the first south sea islander who makes a similar tackle with a substantial ban whilst OF and even our own lucky tight head sit with no/ light bans. I love my rugby but this is indefensible!!

  13. This is an absolute scandal. The match officials have been thrown under the proverbial bus; Feral is a repeat offender, totally uncontrite and will go on to offend again. No other player would have got away with it, and no other nation than England would have got away with it. But it’s Feral, and it’s the RFU. Institutionally corrupt.

  14. I have no faith left in the World Cup rugby. That was a red card. But we have to ensure England get the best possible chance. Had that caused serious injury to that player as it could have. What next. Safety is the final line. There should be uproar.

  15. If the ban was 4 weeks I’d be astonished but this !!? You can bring up all these new tackle laws, you can limit the contact during the week in training, you can roll out tackle school re trainings ( btw I have heard these are a slide show and a tick in the box test at the end) and you can bring in all of the new systems to detect foul play all you want.

    Then you have this case. A serial offender, with a list of sanctions in the same category. A player that from the outside looking in, looks to point blank refuse to change any technique that he has learned from the old league days. What is the point ? An accidental head clatter from a young player ? BAN. A miss timed clean out ? BAN. A head on head rugby incident ? BAN. They are EVEN fining players for posting their views and opinions on social media. (10k for Nowelsy)…A high shot from a repeat offender that has made no effort to change his behaviour despite law changes and previous bans? Get on the plane, enjoy the French food and play on mate all good.

    Uncle Bill looking after the boys ?
    Big name too tough a call?
    World Cup spectacle at risk without another big name there ?

    It’s got to be something and whatever it is, it stinks.

  16. Absolute Disgrace. I am trying to look at this event on its merits and putting aside it is Farrell.

    The tackler is in a totally upright position when he is in open play and has plenty time to bend at the hips and lower the tackle. He has always tackled this way and has never modified his technique despite many other incidents in the past. The fact that his position is wrong and head contact is made makes it a red. The TMO/FPRO on the day who reviewed the decision under the new bunker rule decided it was a red. What does this say about their role – they have been overruled so what is the point of having this new rule as it was meant to give more time to make the correct decision. It makes a mockery of the TMO’s role and they must be seriously hacked off.

    The impact that George is meant to have had may have been a mitigating factor that may have allowed some reduction to the ban but it does not change the fact the Farrell is in the wrong position to tackle and therefore is a red all day. The panel are effectively saying its OK to tackle in an upright position – It is not and it is exactly this type of tackle we are trying to remove from the game.

    I am astounded by this decision.

  17. Terrible call on what is obviously a very poor tackle with no intention of going low and if the panel are saying George unintentionally steered Basham into OF’s path, then he couldn’t have been attempting to rip the ball either. If you’re up against Oscar Foxtrot, you’ve got a high chance of being smacked in the head resulting in an HIA or worse and England’s captain doesn’t have to Foxtrot Oscar back to the changing rooms. It was a high tackle with head on head and no intention to go low = red card + ban.
    Interesting that the panel are all Australian; maybe they had a vested interest in keeping OF in the England squad, though not fair on whoever in the Aussie team is the sacrificial lamb taking one for the team to get him carded again.

  18. Even if change of direction, no arms at any time during the attempted Farrell tackle which is allways going to result in shoulder to head. Utterly mystifying decision demonstrating a complete disregard for player safety

    • Absolutely right, Mike. In the clip above,Farrell is initially semi crouched then propels himself upwards into the opponents face, his legs are straight on impact.
      If it can be seen on a simple twitter clip, it beggars belief that World rugby can’t see it with multi camera angles.
      Talk about defending the indefensible

  19. There was no way the ban could be reduced so they had to do the only thing they could and overturn the red card.
    The optics for the future are terrible. I feel sorry for the next guy that gets hit in the head, concussion or missing matches knowing it could have been stopped today.

    • Absolutely right Hamish. There could be no mitigation given Farrell’s previous record so quite simply he had to be found not guilty and surprise surprise he was.

      With regard to your last point I will have difficulty feeling sorry for the next guy that gets hit …. if it is Owen Farrell.

  20. The tumbleweed on social media from many ex-players who have carved out a media presence is very noticeable. Remember this – Owen Farrell isn’t just protected by the authorities he is also firmly protected by the twitter and podcaster luvvies who all know where their bread is buttered.

  21. It’s time Bill Beaumont was made Prime Minister. Years ago, in the course of a pub lunch with Alan Hosie, he rescued the Five/Six Nations from the stupidity of the 57 Old Farts at Twickenham. Now, he has I suspect, surely had a word with his minions in Dublin to keep Farrell in theWorld Cup.

    Maybe Zander Fagerson was lucky to get such a short ban for his red card, but, that Farrell gets off Scot free makes World Rugby look stupid and corrupt.

    England waives the rules right enough.

  22. It is a very shocking and surprising decision to reverse the red card. I wonder how Taine Basham feels about it? It’s sad to think that we are going to miss seeing Romain Ntamack at the World Cup due to injury but we get to watch Farrell and his own unique brand of play. I can understand why people say that they are losing their love of the game. It’s baffling and sad.

  23. A stunning decision. If you twist the facts to within an inch of their lives, you could find mitigation in pretty much every red card in rugby.

    Grant Gilchrist served a ban after his red card against France, where the French player was clearly pushed into his path and collision was inevitable.

    A yet this serial offender, with a career long history of reckless tackling, is allowed to escape scot-free on the smallest of technicalities.

    Bizarre. Thankfully he’s a complete liability these days anyway.

  24. Downright corrupt. Hopefully the lawyers for the guys making the concussion case are all over this. Impossible to argue that the authorities care about wellbeing.

  25. I don’t really care if Farrell gets to play or not, but this just makes a mockery of any semblance of fair play in rugby. It’s been clear for years that players and unions just get treated differently from each other. At this point, they might as well just go ahead and spell out their ranking system for these decisions in the rule book (with England captain having a section all to himself).

  26. Farcical, no other polite word for it.

    Put Farrell to one side for a moment, this is simply about RWC trying to keep up the spectacle to make the cash, not about setting the right example to all the normal people that make up the sport world wide. The decision itself verges on bringing the game into disrepute – just shocking.

  27. They are having a laugh…is it 1st April..repeat offender but of course he’s Owen Farrell so that’s OK obviously..losing my love for the game😢


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