Owen Farrell will miss Saracens’ European Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster in Dublin next week after receiving a five-game ban for the high tackle that flattened Wasps’ teenage fly-half Charlie Atkinson on Saturday.

The England captain will also have to sit out the semi-final if his club progress but will be free to feature for his country in the autumn internationals.

A three-man independent disciplinary panel chaired by Mike Hamlin ruled that Farrell’s swinging forearm to Atkinson’s head was “reckless”, “totally unacceptable” and worthy of a high-range entry point, although his ban was cut from a potential 10 weeks to five because of mitigating factors, including the player’s remorse.

The outcome means the fly-half, whose relegated club will play Championship rugby next season, will not be seen in a Premiership fixture again for at least 12 months.

The verdict is not just a blow for Saracens, whose season now revolves around the Leinster tie on Saturday week, but it could have other implications. The 29-year-old, capped 83 times by England, can play again on 5 October but is now set to be short of match practice before England’s first autumn fixture against the Barbarians at Twickenham on 25 October.

A suspension was guaranteed from the moment Farrell badly misjudged his attempted 61st-minute tackle on Atkinson during Saracens’ surprise weekend defeat. He apologised immediately and could be heard saying “I know this was bad” to the referee, Christophe Ridley, before receiving the first red card of his professional career. Despite the blatant nature of the offence and the acceptance it had not been intentional, it took more than four hours for the panel to issue its verdict.

“This was a totally unacceptable contact with the neck/head of Charlie Atkinson as a result of a reckless tackle which had the consequences of him being knocked unconscious and sustaining a concussion,” Hamlin said. “This resulted in the panel concluding this was a top-end offence.”

Debate over Farrell’s tackling technique has been continuing for some time but some high-profile character witnesses, including his national and club coaches, did their best to leap to the fly-half’s defence.

“Testimonials provided by Mark McCall, Eddie Jones and the founders of a charity with which the player works very closely were of the highest quality,” Hamlin confirmed. “The panel concluded that applying the off-field mitigating factors, notwithstanding his suspension four and a half years ago, the player was entitled to a reduction from 10 to five meaningful matches under RFU regulation 19.11.11.”

Wasps have announced Atkinson will be sidelined for longer than normal as he recovers from the heavy blow. The 18-year-old, who had been on the field for only eight minutes as a second-half substitute, will not train for at least a fortnight as a precautionary measure.

“You have to look after these guys and it was a tough head knock,” said the Wasps coach, Lee Blackett. “He’s come through OK but obviously because of his age we’ll look after him.”

source: theguardian.com


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