England captain Owen Farrell will miss the team’s first two matches of the Rugby World Cup after an independent disciplinary hearing upheld his red card on Tuesday, handing the flyhalf a four-match suspension including Pool D fixtures against Argentina and Japan.
Farrell was sent off during their 19-17 win against Wales on Aug.12 for a high tackle on Taine Basham, but last week had his red card rescinded by the Six Nations following a hearing.
England’s 29-10 loss to Ireland on Saturday served as the first match of his suspension, and he will also sit out the final warm-up fixture against Fiji this coming weekend.
He will also now be unavailable for the start of England’s World Cup campaign, which gets underway on Sept. 9.
COMMENT: ‘Astounding’ Farrell decision must be reopened by World Rugby
Farrell faced the initial disciplinary hearing for a breach of Law 9.13: “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 31-year-old has a track record of poor discipline and has been previously banned in the Premiership when playing for Saracens. He has also taken part in World Rugby’s ‘tackle school’ which aims to reduce foul play in the game, and participation allows players to have their ban reduced by one week.
Last week, the judicial committee verdict that there were mitigating circumstances in the collision, in which his shoulder struck the head of Basham, caused an uproar on social media and among pundits, as well as player welfare advocates.
The hearing panel on Tuesday said the committee was “manifestly wrong” in its verdict as they did not consider that Farrell had not attempted to wrap his arms in the tackle, and therefore it was always illegal.
No mitigating circumstances could therefore be applied.
“The Appeal Committee unanimously determined that in the original hearing the Disciplinary Committee should have considered the attempt of the player to wrap his opponent in the tackle. This point did not feature in the original decision,” a statement from Six Nations Rugby said.
“As this element did not feature in the original decision, the Appeal Committee decided it was in the interests of justice to hear the case afresh on that key point alone, which included hearing from the player.”
It brings to an end a saga that has unsettled England’s preparations for the World Cup and the plans of coach Steve Borthwick.
Both Borthwick and Andy Farrell, Owen’s father and Ireland coach, last week slammed the disciplinary process and criticised World Rugby’s decision to appeal.
Borthwick faces another anxious wait over the fate of the only specialist number eight in his World Cup squad Billy Vunipola.
He received a red card in Saturday’s loss in Ireland, and could also miss several of England’s early games in the tournament. The verdict in his hearing is expected on Wednesday.
England, runners-up to South Africa at the 2019 World Cup, will also face Samoa and Chile in Pool D.
This year’s World Cup runs from Sept. 8 to Oct. 28 in France.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.