RFU clears Farrell for Six Nations, but Exeter man could miss out with two Saracens in contention

RFU clears Farrell for Six Nations, but Exeter man could miss out with two Saracens in contention

England head coach Steve Borthwick has been given the green light by Rugby Football Union to add the suspended Owen Farrell to his Six Nations squad and possibly captain the opening game against Scotland.

But the mental gymnastics required to understand how Farrell is available raises serious questions about the application of the disciplinary rules.

With England set to begin their Six Nations campaign on February 4, the third and virtually final game of Farrell’s suspension for a dangerous tackle against Gloucester was ruled by the Disciplinary Committee as the Saracens’ Premiership game against Bristol on January 28, despite it being a game Farrell would normally miss if he was in the England squad.

A logical reading of the circumstances is that the panel could revisit the decision if they deemed it necessary, but the RFU appear to have got the situation under control and they say the Bristol game counts, case closed is.

It doesn’t help that there are ridiculous examples of panels counting games that players never would have appeared in. And while Saracens rugby director Mark McCall believes there has been too much outcry over Farrell’s tackle, one wonders what Scotland manager Gregor Townsend has to say when naming his Six Nations squad on Monday.

Meanwhile, Farrell’s England rival Marcus Smith returned from injury with a nice show-and-go to concede the first of wing Cadan Murley’s two tries in the Harlequins’ agonizing 30-29 loss to Racing 92 in Paris on Sunday create.

Slade could also get in trouble

Another disciplinary hearing affecting Six Nations is imminent after Exeter Chiefs’ Henry Slade was sent off against the Bulls in Pretoria. The English center’s arm darted from Kurt-Lee Arendse’s shoulder to his head, but the law says a tackle that drives up can still be dangerous.

It contributed to an intense debate about what should and shouldn’t be penalized in a Champions Cup weekend, with five red cards for head contact and three losses and one win for the reduced teams.

Sale’s Cobus Wiese and London Irish’s Ciaran Parker were clear offenses while Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue had critics and supporters. I was in Brentford yesterday with a good sight of Ben Loader’s red after the London Irish full-back collided head-on with Stormers’ Manie Libbok.

Ireland head coach Les Kiss considered it whiplash after an initial chest-to-shoulder clash and said of the referees “no matter which direction they go, they’re not managed well”. Irish rugby director Declan Kidney lamented “a lot of televised court cases – there are incidents that are examined microscopically and get a lot of airtime,” while admitting the game is safer now.

But players were constantly warned about upright tackles, and pundits Delon Armitage and Sam Warburton were correct in stating that Loader’s (below) technique was wrong. The resulting headbutt on Libbok robbed the Stormers of their Springbok Fly half after 17 minutes and the spectacle ended when Parker was sacked two minutes into the second half.

“It was a great game until the numbers went down,” said Stormers head coach John Dobson. “It wasn’t the product we wanted, to expand the game, the participation of South African teams and so on – but in terms of the result I’ll take it.”

Two Saracens fighting

Borthwick took part in Saracens’ 48-28 win over Lyon on Saturday night I was also there to watch Sarrie’s full-back Elliot Daly score the second fastest hat-trick in Champions Cup history, continuing his best form since joining the club in 2019.

Team-mate Jamie George said he had “never seen a better rugby-half”, with a nod to Daly’s 50-22 and excellent line kicks, passes and finishes. Daly was overlooked by then-England manager Eddie Jones last year but he offers obvious utility.

The full-back’s competitors for Borthwick include reigning Freddie Steward and Leicester team-mate Anthony Watson, while Henry Arundell and fly-half George Ford will return in the last weekend of January.

Meanwhile, Saracens’ England decoy Maro Itoje limped away with an ankle injury, while flanker Ben Earl was in conspicuous action. London Irish’s Earl and Tom Pearson have a chance to feature during Tom Curry’s injury break, while other possible back-row players include Lewis Ludlam of Northampton and Jack Willis of Toulouse.

Among regular open sides, Earl was a perpetuum mobile against Lyon: a tackle leader, try scorer from a maul and penalty winner with his scourge of full-back Ethan Dumortier.

Unfortunately for Pearson, playing across London 17 hours later, he spent most of his match chasing Stormer’s shadow but at 114kg to Earl’s 102kg he offers a more obvious carry threat if that’s what Borthwick wants.

Arguably the best contribution of the weekend from a No.7 was the Ospreys’ Justin Tipuric with a cross kick on Keelan Giles and an amazing snaffle following to score in the 35-29 win over Montpellier and boosted the Champions Cup hopes to keep his team alive.

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