I heard someone talking about the media early on in the Covid Lockdown – it went along the lines of – It’s all about being first, facts aren’t important. Let’s hold that thought as I look back at the match between Saracens and Wasps last weekend. I realise I’m late to this subject but I wanted to be in possession of all of those facts.

I was, happily, watching with my good friends Alun & Sharon, and while that was a good thing watching the Saracens performance was not. I think it’s one of, if not the worst performance from Saracens I’ve seen in the 11 years I’ve been watching them. Saracens conceded 15 penalties with Billy Vunipola giving away 4 on his own. Wasps themselves gave away 13, it was a niggly game.

It was a game that was getting away from Saracens as the fairly inexperienced Wasps team, led by Jimmy Gopperth made a much better fist of pretty much everything. Although as the hour approached the score was Saracens 15 Wasps 20, so it wasn’t quite out of sight.

Owen Farrell had contributed a conversion and a penalty, he’d missed touch with 2 penalties and conceded 2 penalties, not the best return. His actions in that 61st minute would have far reaching consequences and cause a virtual meltdown amongst rugby fans and so called journalists. Oh, and ex players too!

I’m going to take a couple of extracts from the findings of the Disciplinary Panel, the first being a description of the HIgh Tackle that saw Farrell shown his first on field red card.

Firstly the referee’s report, followed by a summary of the video evidence.

  1. Christophe Ridley’s report (the referee)
    “Wasps ball carrier playing left to right, 1m inside his own half in the centre of the field.
    Running in space, the ball carrier was tackled by Owen Farrell at high speed with force to the neck/head area. No mitigation applicable. Owen immediately acknowledged his actions by apologising on the field & again after waiting by the side of the pitch for the injured player to be
    removed.”
  2. The video footage of the incident was of 6 minutes duration as it included the on field medical treatment of the Wasps player, Charlie Atkinson (CA) until he walked from the field of play. The clip showed the Player kicking the ball & chasing his own kick which had been caught by CA. CA was running slightly across field just inside the Wasps half. The Player was running at speed from CA’s left side towards CA who was carrying the ball. There were no other players between CA and the Player appeared to have a clear unobstructed view of CA. The Player in a fairly upright position with left shoulder and left arm leading, tackles CA with the Player’s head to the right of CA and the Player’s upper left arm (bicep) comes into contact with the left hand side of CA’s neck and head with considerable force. Just before contact CA checked his speed and line
    of running and slightly changes direction off his right foot, dipping his left shoulder and
    simultaneously lowering his head slightly. After the collision the Player goes past CA and falls to the ground on his back placing his hands momentarily on his head. CA goes to ground and lies motionless on the grass. The referee intervenes very quickly. The Player can be seen approaching CA.The Wasps medical team arrive to administer medical attention. The referee speaks to the Player and issues a red card. The Player leaves the field of play immediately and then waits at the touch line watching CA receive medical treatment. After a stoppage of approximately 5 minutes CA gets up and walks off the field. The Player can be seen to speak toCA and shake his hand. The collision incident was shown at normal speed and from numerous angles.

So, these are the facts as seen and discussed by the panel, they also received 2 medical reports the first of which confirmed that Charlie Atkinson suffered a concussion and a second that due to his age, of just 18, he’d be following the enhanced U19 protocol before he could return to training.

The panel consisted of the following people

Mike Hamlin – Chair

Mike is a former player (Hooker for 26 years) and Referee for 19 years (RFU Panel Referee for 13 years and officiated in 9 different countries). Mike has chaired RFU disciplinary and appeal panels since 2005; he is also a judicial officer and chairman for World Rugby and Six Nations and also acts as a Match Commissioner for Rugby Europe. In addition he is currently a timekeeper for the Premiership and internationals and is former Chairman of Manchester and District RURS. Mike was appointed Chairman of the Independent Judicial Panel for EPCR in August 2017 and was appointed by World Rugby in June 2018 as a World Rugby licensed Judicial Educator for World Rugby Judicial Officers in the Northern Hemisphere. Mike is a retired Solicitor but still sits part time as a Judge and has done since 1995.

Leon Lloyd – Panel Member 1

Leon is a Panel Member appointed in September 2016. He played professional rugby for Leicester Tigers, Gloucester, Barbarians and England over a 15 year period. He is also a member of the EPCR and World Rugby Disciplinary Panels.

Gareth Graham – Panel Member 2

Gareth sits as a Judicial Chairman for the RFU, EPCR, 6 Nations and World Rugby. He retired from rugby in 2014 having worn a number 8 shirt for many years in a variety of colours. He is a barrister at 3 Paper Buildings, London, with a practice in employment, professional discipline and sports law.

You can probably tell by now that I’m a fan of facts, apologies if this is too many, but I warn there are more to come! I’d say that panel consisted of 3 individuals who know their stuff. Farrell was represented by Richard Smith QC, he put in an extensive argument for a mid-level ban which would have been a starting point of 6 weeks as well as his reasoning for the maximum reduction allowed.

The panel disagreed with Mr Smith giving the following reasons for the entry level being 10 weeks rather than 6.

The Panel considered Mr Smith’s submissions carefully but respectfully disagree. The assessment is not formulaic. It is adiscretionary exercise giving due weight to the factors present in the offending to arrive at a just sanction. The weight attached to some factors may be more than others (as in this case) but the absence of intent or premeditation in this case
does not prevent the Panel from elevating the mandatory mid range to top end. The risk of injury where the head or neck is involved is well known and is not repeated here. Mr Smith is correct to the extent that the mandatory entry point of at least mid range reflects the gravity and nature of the offending as a result of the risk of injury to the head and/or neck but not
where the victim actually sustains injury. All cases are fact specific and the Panel unanimously determined that significant weight should be given to the injury sustained. CA lost consciousness and was removed from the field of play and sustained a concussion and due weight must be given to this factor which elevates the offending to top end. For the avoidance of doubt, had CA been an adult player on these facts (absent the age fact) the Panel would have elevated the offending to top end. This was a reckless and dangerous tackle resulting in CA losing consciousness and sustaining concussion.

That potential 10 week ban was reduced by 50%, with the reasoning (again) below

The Panel took into consideration RFU Regulation 19.11.12 which states that in assessing the reduction applicable for mitigating factors, the Disciplinary Panel shall start at 0% reduction and apply the amount, if any to be allowed as mitigation up to the maximum of 50% reduction.

The Panel considered Mr Smith’s submissions relating to mitigation very carefully and determined, that having taken into account paragraphs 71-75 of the Gabrillagues Appeal
Decision and our other findings above a 50% reduction was justified. Again it is not just a matter of arithmetics and a tick box exercise. The Player’s disciplinary record is not perfect. However, the only matter on his record is a two week ban from four and a half years ago when he was 24. The Regulations do not refer to a time when a previous sanction may be disregarded for mitigation purposes. There is an element of discretion. The Panel concluded that such is the weight of other mitigating factors, including acknowledgment of culpability, obvious and genuine remorse and considerable (and exceptional) evidence as to the Player’s good character, that the two week ban from four and a half years ago should not prevent the Player from receiving the maximum reduction by way of mitigation available.

There is a lot more to read in the paperwork but I think those I’ve extracted tell the facts of the story. Having been through the vitriol towards Saracens after they breached the Salary Cap regulations I was unsurprised by some of the headlines and Social Media hysteria, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed – here’s a selection

  • BBC – Owen Farrell – High Tackle was ‘probably worst act of his brilliant career’
  • Wales Online – Owen Farrell ‘out of control’ in tackle as ex-England stars predict big ban
  • Wales Online (again) – Owen Farrell slammed by Clive Woodward for red card horror tackle
  • Chris Foy (Daily Mail) – Farrell must pay the full price for his appalling act
  • Jim Hamilton Rugby Pass – ‘ One of the worst tackles I’ve ever seen’
  • Andy Goode, Rugby Pass – England captain or not, Farrell deserves a lengthy ban – ‘it was reckless, it was reckless & premeditated’ (from Twitter)

I’ve just made my blood pressure rise by looking through Twitter again – It’s no wonder those who seem to hate Owen Farrell went a bit crazy after he was sent off after headlines and opinions like those above. I find it particularly that a day after one Andy Goode wrote tjose words he posted a tweet about World Suicide Prevention Day. The tackle by Owen Farrell was as nailed on a red card as I’ve seen, but he didn’t take an axe onto the pitch! The punishment is proportionate for the offence and the person, Farrell will miss Saracens Champions Cup Quarter Final against Leinster, one of the few meaningful matches in this horror season for his team. I’m no fan of the 50% reductions, but while they exist they MUST exist for everyone.

2 Comments »

  1. Sadly I think some.of the pundits appear to be more interested in self promotion than an unbiased critique of the incident.
    Andy Goode seems to have an axe to grind against the club, and forgets his own shortcomings throughout his money chasing career.
    I was particularly unimpressed with his attempt at sexualised humour on Randrandra’s given name.

    Like

    • I can’t bring myself to read anything to do with the man. Funny how he played for Saracens on a Saturday and then left the following Monday. He doesn’t have an impartial bone in his body

      Like

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