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Welsh Surgeon Accuses World Rugby Of Blowing Up The “Bunker” System In Order To Clear Owen Farrell

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By David Williams

Owen Farrell’s escape from any kind of ban following his red card has been branded as making a “mockery” of player welfare by a leading Welsh surgeon.

Farrell will lead England into the World Cup after his dismissal against Wales was not upheld by a disciplinary panel, making him free to play with immediate effect.

At the same time, Taine Basham – on the receiving end of Farrell’s “tackle” – is struggling to be fit for selection this weekend against South Africa in what would be his last chance to impress before World Cup selection.

The Saracens No.10 was sent off at Twickenham last Saturday when his yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Basham was upgraded to a red by the ‘Bunker’ review system.

Progressive Rugby, a player welfare lobby group that includes Professor John Fairclough, reacted to the shock decision by declaring it had “made a mockery of World Rugby’s claim that player welfare is the game’s number one priority”.

Farrell was expected to receive a ban in the region of six matches, minus mitigation, that would have ruled him out of the World Cup opener against Argentina on September 9.

The verdict goes down as another feather in the cap for England’s team lawyer, Richard Smith KC, who is described on his Chambers website as a barrister who “achieves incredible results from seemingly impossible situations”.

Farrell, 31, has missed a total of 11 games because of suspensions incurred for the same offence across three previous incidents, but is now free to take part in England’s clash with Ireland on Saturday.

The all-Australian judicial committee decided that his offence warranted a yellow card only and should not have been lifted to a red by the Bunker.

Its verdict hinged on Jamie George’s attempted tackle on Basham which it claimed caused the Wales flanker, who subsequently failed a head injury assessment, to change direction just before Farrell made his challenge.

“The committee determined, when applying World Rugby’s head contact process, that mitigation should be applied to the high degree of danger found by the foul play review officer,” a statement read.

“The committee found that a late change in dynamics due to England #2’s interaction in the contact area brought about a sudden and significant change in direction from the ball carrier.

“In the committee’s opinion, this mitigation was sufficient to bring the player’s act of foul play below the red card threshold.”

Progressive Rugby condemned an outcome that has sent shockwaves through the sport as it continues its drive to become safer.

“Today’s astounding decision to overturn the red card given to Owen Farrell for his tackle on Taine Basham has made a mockery of World Rugby’s claim that player welfare is the game’s number one priority,” a statement read.

“Additionally, despite protestations in the judgement to the contrary, it has critically undermined the newly introduced Bunker process before a global tournament and eroded confidence in the game’s judicial process which is meant to help protect those playing the game.”

In coming to its verdict, the panel said no criticism was being made of the Bunker review system – which is currently being used on a trial basis only and has yet to be confirmed for the World Cup – given the time available to make a decision.

However, it now calls into question the viability of the system if it does not have the time to make accurate calls.

Farrell’s most recent suspension was for an illegal challenge on Gloucester’s Jack Clement in January, which was reduced from four to three games after he completed tackle school, enabling him to face Scotland in the Six Nations opener.

The decision to overturn the red card is sure to anger anti-concussion campaigners, among them former Wales international Alix Popham who described it as a “shocking challenge”.

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