SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: I hope Farrell sets tone and inspires new thinking

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: I hope Owen Farrell’s brave decision to step away from England duty sets the tone and inspires new thinking here

  • Saracens have confirmed that Owen Farrell will miss the Six Nations next year
  • He has taken decision to step away to protect his and his family’s mental health 
  • CHRIS FOY: Toxic backlash has taken a toll on the man behind the iron mask

The first and most important thing is to acknowledge the brave and correct decision Owen Farrell has made to step away from England duty to protect his and his family’s mental health and that we wish them all the best.

It is also with great sadness and disappointment that Farrell’s move comes as no great surprise considering the extraordinary weight his shoulders have been forced to bear and the unjust criticism he has had to face. Only he will know how much influence this had over his decision.

Rugby, sport and society have all come a long way in understanding mental health, but there is still so much more that can be done. Athletes and coaches ask a great deal of themselves.

They put themselves into situations that are, while an utter privilege and filled with joy at times, can also leave you wondering how you will get out of bed some days.

This is not a burden they carry alone. Their families face the same trials and pressures.

Owen Farrell to take a step away from England duty to prioritise his family’s mental well-being

Farrell is one of England’s greatest ever players. He’s the national captain and the country’s record points scorer. He has had unbelievable success with England, Saracens and the Lions.

But that has not been enough for some. For whatever reason, he has never had the praise he’s deserved. In fact, he’s ended up being criticised a lot — often personally and unjustly. I wonder whether that has had an impact.

When Farrell was sent off for a dangerous tackle against Wales in the summer and banned for the start of the World Cup, he got things wrong and admitted as much.

He had nothing to do with how World Rugby and then review committees made a mess of the disciplinary process.

Farrell was left exposed, as players often are, and the subsequent targeting of him was way over the top and totally uncalled for. That was summed up when he was booed at the World Cup. For a player who has given so much, that was unforgivable.

Beyond the recent World Cup, Farrell, England and Saracens have faced a difficult period on the field over the last four years.

The RFU and other international sides should look at Farrell’s situation with real concern 

Saracens were relegated amid the salary cap scandal. England underperformed and then there was Eddie Jones’s departure less than a year before the World Cup.

For a talismanic leader and the face of England rugby, I’m sure it was a lot for Farrell to deal with — especially compared to the previous four years that were filled with Grand Slams, Lions series victories, three Champions Cup wins and a World Cup final.

I hope, with the decision made and the outpouring of support he has received, Farrell can now look ahead with new-found freedom. I hope Farrell sets the tone and inspires new thinking in this area. Why is taking a sabbatical not more common?

Let’s be brutally honest. There is nobody at the RFU who would have a clue how to help or advise Farrell when he needs it most. No doubt they will blame others — especially the media — and create another nameless committee to investigate and put forward their thoughts with zero accountability.

Meanwhile, Farrell will probably be left to work it out for himself. That is so wrong. The RFU and other international sides should look at Farrell’s situation with real concern but as an opportunity to better support players.

Farrell was sent off at Twickenham in August for a high tackle on Wales’ Taine Basham 

The world’s best businesses build sabbaticals into their HR processes as paid leave. Why not rugby?

I’ve always been a huge believer in, and a backer of, Farrell. I have maintained he should be England’s leading light, but always from No 10 and not 12.

He is going to continue to play for his beloved Saracens and I really hope this is not the last we’ve seen of him at Test level. Here’s hoping the break does him the world of good and he can return to the international game when he’s good and ready.

Andy Farrell is hotly tipped to lead the 2025 Lions to Australia. Oh, how I would love to see his son make one more tour alongside his father.

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