Saracens are resigned to losing Owen Farrell for their European Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster this month after the England captain’s red card against Wasps last weekend.
The Saracens director of rugby, Mark McCall, revealed on Monday that he had spoken to an “incredibly regretful” Farrell but not specifically addressed his often-criticised tackling technique, pointing to his “pretty good” disciplinary record when asked if the fly-half needed to improve that area of his game.
Farrell was sent off for the first time in his career after clotheslining the Wasps teenager Charlie Atkinson and will learn his fate at a virtual disciplinary hearing on Tuesday. A six-week suspension is likely and, while Farrell could receive the maximum mitigation of 50% of the ban, three weeks would rule him out of Saracens’ next two Premiership matches as well as the Leinster fixture.
While hastily arranging Saracens’ penultimate Premiership match of the season at Worcester – the date of which is still to be confirmed – for the middle of next week could potentially hand Farrell an unlikely reprieve for the European quarter-final, it is understood there are no plans to do so.
McCall did not confirm which way Farrell would plead but the fact he is planning to start either Manu Vunipola or Alex Goode at fly-half against Leinster strongly hints at guilty. He may yet receive a 10-week ban – again mitigation would be expected – if the disciplinary panel decide that the incident warrants a top-end suspension, which could jeopardise his availability for England this autumn. “Owen is incredibly regretful and you could see that from the moment the incident happened,” said McCall.
“He knew he had got it wrong and you could see on his face how he felt. I think we can safely assume that Owen won’t be available for [the Leinster] game and we will plan as such. [But he] will definitely be involved in helping that squad before the game.
“[We have] two options – Manu to start or Alex Goode. That’s the choice we have to make. I have every confidence with everything Manu has faced over these eight or nine months have prepared him for these moments and we think he is ready.”
McCall also revealed Mako Vunipola’s race to be fit to face Leinster due to a back problem. Vunipola has not featured since Saracens’ first match of the Premiership’s restart and is unlikely to face Sale on Wednesday. “It’s lingering for longer than we had hoped,” said McCall.
Meanwhile, Pat Lam is furious that Bristol centre Siale Piutau was cited for “defending himself” during last Friday’s victory at Worcester while the home full-back Melani Nanai evaded the disciplinary process after a clear high tackle on Semi Radradra. Piutau was banned for three weeks after being cited for fighting with Andrew Kitchener, who received the same suspension having been sent off.
With Farrell sent off the following day, Lam is concerned that the consistency which was a feature of the World Cup a year ago has been lost. Nanai was playing his first match back after serving a three-match ban for a no-arms tackle on Gloucester wing, Jonny May.
“I was extremely surprised that the tackle on Semi was not dealt with at the time and I was really shocked that the citing commissioner, Tony Diprose, deemed that it was not a citable offence,” said Lam, the Bristol head coach. “We look for consistency, but the way the process is, the citing commissioner has the final say.
“If he feels that Siale Piutau defending himself with two guys coming at him is a red card and the Semi Radradra one with a swinging arm and full contact to the face is not, we can’t do anything about it. We just have to let it go and move on.”