Whole disciplinary process just isn’t fit for purpose

There is so much noise around the Owen Farrell suspension but the long and short of it is the disciplinary process isn’t fit for purpose and World Rugby have to intervene. Farrell was guilty of a dangerous tackle but this isn’t about him – we have seen similar with other players after all. There shouldn’t be so many loopholes in the system and there has to be more independence in these disciplinary hearings.

Yes, the case was heard by an independent disciplinary panel but everyone on it was English and the ten-page full judgment has red roses emblazoned all over it. Why isn’t there a Frenchman, an Irishman and an Australian on there?

The RFU aren’t the only culprits when it comes to incidents like this one. We have seen it with the FFR and Rugby Australia recently and I’m sure every union has done similar over the years. World Rugby have to implement a centralized disciplinary process… and fast.

Video Spacers
Video Spacers

In the Farrell case, it was a mid-range offense and there wasn’t the option to reduce the six-week ban by 50 per cent – ​​as is customary nowadays – because of the suspension he received for a particularly bad tackle on Charlie Atkinson a couple of years ago.

I have said it before but the fact that so many bans are cut in half because players have a clean record is a joke. In this instance, despite Farrell not qualifying for that full reduction, he might still only serve three weeks of his six-week ban and the reasoning behind why that is the case is extremely dubious.

He can knock a week off by applying to World Rugby to take part in the coaching intervention process. You can argue the merits of that but it is an option that is open to almost everyone so there are no major issues there. However, two weeks have been deducted because of his “timely acknowledgment of his offending and considering his behavior following the incident, during the hearing and leading up to the hearing, sitting alongside other mitigation available to him”.

I don’t know what classes as timely but we are told that Farrell “said a number of times that he felt he had made primary contact through the chest area and that he had made a fair tackle”. He also denied that his actions warranted a red card.

The other relevant off-field mitigating factors listed for a reduction in the ban include the fact that he expressed remorse, contacted his opponent to apologise, and that he received an exemplary reference from Mark McCall, his boss at Saracens.

Of course, you are going to say sorry to someone if you make contact with their chin, especially if you know it counts in your favor at a disciplinary hearing, and it would be pretty odd if a player didn’t get a glowing reference from their head coach or director of rugby.

How that all adds up to a two-week deduction, I have no idea and the structures in place just aren’t strong enough so it does seem as if it is possible to find ways to reduce suspensions by as many weeks as suits.

I’m not saying the RFU have tailored the ban to suit them but the explanation for the deduction seems questionable and the optics aren’t good with Farrell potentially now able to play in the opening game of the Guinness Six Nations as a result.

The final nail in the coffin is that the third ‘meaningful’ game that he will miss as a result of his ban is Saracens’ match against Bristol on January 28, a Gallagher Premiership fixture that he would never have played in because he would have been preparing with England for the February 4 Calcutta Cup match versus Scotland.

Farrell is not the first player to benefit from this loophole. Kyle Sinckler, amongst others, have previously returned to international duty sooner than one might expect in similar circumstances but bans should only apply to games that players would actually play in.

A particularly ludicrous example of that was how Australia named Darcy Swain in their A-team squad so a few of those ‘meaningful’ games would count as part of his suspension after his Test-level charge into the knee of Quinn Tupaea. Again, Farrell isn’t the first player to benefit from this loophole and he won’t be the last unless World Rugby acts.

The full judgment states that “no announcement has yet been made as to the England squad for the forthcoming Six Nations fixtures” and that “RFU regulation 19.11.15 applies and the question as to whether forthcoming fixtures are meaningful can only be judged on the best information available at the time of the decision”.

We all know that Farrell will be named in the England squad on Monday so it is interesting to note that it also states that “should there be a change of circumstances, then it will be the responsibility of the parties to consider the position and to ensure that the sanction imposed by this panel remains meaningful”.

We have seen this happen before so I’m not expecting anything to change on Monday and for it to all of a sudden be the case that Farrell will miss England’s encounter with Scotland, but that wording is interesting as you can certainly argue that the squad announcement is a change of circumstances.

As an England fan, I want Farrell to be available to face Scotland. Unfortunately, there is always more of a focus on the Saracens man in situations like this because of previous conversations around his tackle technique but I’m also a rugby fan generally and I want the sport to be fair and for there to be one set of definitive sanctions that all players are subject to.

I’m not suggesting that there is necessarily any foul play here on the part of the RFU but the optics aren’t good. There do appear to be contradictions throughout the full judgment and it should just be a more streamlined and centralized process.

The days of having to turn up in person in an ill-fitting suit and loafers are long gone and with disciplinary hearings done over video conferencing software, there is no reason why the global governing body can’t be responsible for all of them.

The takeaway from this latest suspension saga isn’t that it is a scandal that Farrell will be able to wear the England No10 jersey against Scotland, it is that the whole disciplinary process just isn’t fit for purpose and it’s about time World Rugby did something about it.

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