Rugby fans, journalists and experts have reacted with a mix of shock and dismay to the news
The internet went into meltdown after Owen Farrell was cleared to play immediately and his red card against Wales was rescinded.
An independent disciplinary committee decided 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” was mitigation enough to rescind the sending off.
It means Farrell, who faced a potential six-game suspension, is free to play immediately. But the news prompted an outpouring of negative reaction on social media.
In a statement, professor John Fairclough of Progressive Rugby – a player welfare group comprising expert medics, elite players, academics and coaches passionate about protecting rugby’s long-term future – said: ““Today’s astounding decision to overturn the red card given to Owen Farrell for his tackle on Taine Basham has made a mockery of World Rugby’s claim that player welfare is the game’s number one priority.
“Additionally, despite protestations in the judgement to the contrary, it has critically undermined the newly introduced bunker process before a global tournament and eroded confidence in the game’s judicial process which is meant to help protect those playing the game.”
Commentator Nick Mullins tweeted a screenshot of the ruling and said: “We’re going to spend an awful lot of time during this World Cup trying to explain yellows & reds”.
Toulouse centre Pita Ahki, who recently made his Tonga debut, agreed with a statement suggesting it was “up there with the most scandalous decisions ever made in rugby”.
Irish journalist Andy McGeady is far from the only one “at a complete loss” at the committee’s decision.
Bristol and Samoa back-rower Steven Luatua said this:
Australian journo Brett McKay argued that, “the very clear intent from Farrell … was to aim high shoulder first”.
“Why was this intent ignored,” he asked.
The Times‘ rugby correspondent Alex Lowe also questioned whether the tackle would have been ‘always illegal’, in which case mitigation would not apply.
And the news made it to France. Journalist Thomas Corbet reacted with: “Owen Farrell, total whitewash, is absolutely superb. I don’t even know what to say.”
While head of sport at Le Figaro, David Reyrat needed two alert emojis, capital letters and four exclamation points to express his surprise.
Rugbyrama’s social media team, meanwhile, satisfied themselves with an image.
South African rugby journalist Dylan Jack referenced Pieter-Steph du Toit’s ban last November and asked why the actions of another player worked this time as mitigation, when they didn’t back then.
Compatriot Brendan Nel said rugby was “its own worst enemy”.
Rugby and the Law had wondered in a thread whether there might be mitigation.
USA Sevens coach Mike Friday, however, branded both the decision and the system a joke, “if JG actions are deemed mitigation in this incident.” Ahki replied to Friday’s post, saying: “Exaaaaactly hold him accountable or be consistent with your decisions @WorldRugby.”
Many fans also took to social media to voice their displeasure, one said: “An absolute disgrace. How can rugby pretend to combat the seriousness of head injuries & dementia in the sport & not even class that as a red card? I don’t care about anyone’s biases, nothing is more important than protecting players. A shameful day for rugby.”
Another added: “Decision has set a dangerous precedent because it was a cast iron red card direct contact to the head with no mitigation this decision is very damaging to rugby and they need to overturn it and ban Farrell for the reputation of the game a shocking and disgraceful decision.”
We’ll leave the last word to former Rugby World editor Owain Jones.
Nothing to see, here. Move along…
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