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The Breakdown | Owen Farrell sets tone but an England captain also needs a clear head | Sport



It seems like another generation, but it is not quite a year since the World Cup in Japan kicked off. Owen Farrell’s red card last Saturday for a dangerous tackle during Saracens’ home defeat to Wasps that left Charlie Atkinson dazed and unable to carry on was the only option for the referee because of the crackdown on high challenges during the tournament.

The World Cup was a round old when the organisers issued a statement expressing disappointment at the leniency shown by match officials to the perpetrators of high tackles. A rash of red cards followed, two for wild challenges on Farrell, and the zero-tolerance approach eventually had its intended effect.

The message from World Rugby was clear as it looked to tackle the issue of concussion. A challenge that led to contact with an opponent’s head merited a red card, no matter if it was accidental rather than intentional, unless there were mitigating circumstances, such as a ball-carrier ducking low at the last moment.

It meant there was consistency and players aware that if they struck an opponent on the head, they would be off. Farrell knew from the moment he made contact with Atkinson his match was over and , very probably, he would be watching the European Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster in Dublin from an armchair.

Atkinson ducked slightly into the tackle, but that only served to show that by aiming as high as the law allowed, at Atkinson’s shoulders, Farrell gave himself no wriggle room. Never mind as an experienced player he should have known better but the match was an hour old and Wasps were holding the champions.

It was the moment for a clear head, but a theme of Farrell’s career has been the frustration that can build up in a competitive player who is driven by success. England have been at their weakest under Eddie Jones, and for a while before him, when a match is slipping away from them in the final quarter. It happened in Cardiff in the Six Nations this year and in the World Cup final when they trailed by six points with 14 minutes to go.

Farrell’s dismissal against Wasps raised more questions about his suitability as captain, but in the current climate a red card for a high tackle is an occupational hazard. His immediate predecessor as captain, Dylan Hartley, had a far worse disciplinary record and the 2003 World Cup leader, Martin Johnson, was no stranger to the workings of the sport’s judiciary.

Jones has been around too long to be diverted by the opinions of others. He will have been thinking about potential alternatives as captain because that is his job and Farrell will not play every match in the eight nations tournament planned for November and December. It is also

because England need to become more flexible tactically, not carry on regardless when a ruse is rumbled, as happened in the opening half against France last February.

The captain sets the tone and for all Farrell’s combative attitude, his selfless commitment and his high value as a goal-kicker and architect of England’s attack, does his lack of detachment and tendency to run at a high temperature make him more of a soldier than a general?

His place in the England side has been questioned with George Ford blessed with more of the instinct Jones craves in an outside-half, but the physical and mental brutality of Test matches between the leading sides makes Farrell hard to leave out; for all of some of his lapses, and in the 2014 European Cup final between Saracens and Toulon in Cardiff he so lost it when the game went beyond his side that he ranted at a bemused Jonny Wilkinson, his merits amount to far, far more.

His character has been traduced since the red card, familiar territory for an England captain, but in his moments of reflection he may have asked himself why little attention had been paid to an incident the night before that left the Bristol centre Semi Radradra receiving attention to his head.

Melani Nanai’s tackle on Bristol Bears’ Semi Radradra was judged by Wayne Barnes as only worth a penalty as it was ‘over the shoulder’.

Melani Nanai’s tackle on Bristol Bears’ Semi Radradra was judged by Wayne Barnes as only worth a penalty as it was ‘over the shoulder’. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Radradra had broken from his own half at Worcester and one of the tries of the season looked on before he was felled from behind by a stiff-arm tackle. The referee, Wayne Barnes, awarded a penalty for a high challenge against Melani Nanai, who was playing his first match back after serving a three-week ban for a no-arms challenge on the Gloucester wing Jonny May.

Barnes initially said the challenge was “over the shoulder”, a view he sustained after reviewing the incident on the big screen and he took no further action. Why was he shown only one angle when footage from front-on showed contact was made with Radradra’s jaw?

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Nanai was fortunate his tackle was not scrutinised by the television match official and that Radradra had a robust jaw. But there was no excuse for the incident failing to result in a citing as it was the very essence of what World Rugby last year proclaimed not just worthy of a red card but an automatic one.

Nanai was also fortunate that he was not Farrell, because he would have found himself under the harshest scrutiny. Being England captain carries responsibilities, but status does not matter when it comes to the perpetrator of dangerous and reckless challenges. That was the message during the World Cup, but Farrell will miss the next five matches while Nanai remains in the swing of it.

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Six Nations Rugby

Autumn of Romain Ntamack, Tadhg Furlong and thrill of the unexpected reminded us why rugby is to be treasured | Sport



Impossibly exquisite. That was how my colleague John Westerby described a part of the glorious attack from deep launched by Romain Ntamack of France which electrified the match against New Zealand last Saturday, one already illuminating the whole arena of global rugby. As he weaved his sumptuous path, Ntamack was effectively staging the opening ceremony for Rugby World Cup 2023 in France. He and his team made you wish away the next two years, made you wish to devour now the champagne placed on ice for the big one.

All the talk last weekend was that when rugby is played like that, it is still the greatest sport of all. In favour of this motion were the performances of France and Ireland, a few lovely

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France and Ireland hit stride as England’s experiments go on | Sport



There are “famous” wins and the downright anonymous. Ireland beat a battered Argentina side 53-7 last Sunday. It may have been a wide-margin victory but it will not linger in Irish minds. Rewind to the previous Saturday and we witnessed the stuff of legend as Ireland outplayed New Zealand. The winning scoreline of 29-20 flattered the All Blacks.

Ireland have been here before. There was the excitement of 2016 in Chicago as well as a first win in Dublin in 2018. The latter win sealed a superb season; a grand slam and dreams of World Cup glory. The euphoria lasted until England shattered their dreams in Dublin to kick off the 2019 Six Nations.

The adrenaline of a famous win cannot be replicated. The

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Six Nations Rugby | Barbarians put South Africa to the sword in front of record crowd



The Barbarians dominated the first half, with USA’s Sarah Levy crossing the whitewash twice and scores from Daley-Mclean, France’s Lenaig Corson, Scotland’s Rhona Lloyd and Natasha Hunt of England.

Lindsay Peat and Simi Pam finished after half-time as did Levy to complete her hat-trick, while outgoing Ireland captain Ciara Griffin also scored on her final international appearance.

The Barbarians made a rapid start and, after winning a scrum on the five-metre line, Daley-Mclean’s cross-field kick found Levy in space on the wing to take the catch and dot down.

Daley-Mclean produced a second outstanding kick to convert the try before the game turned into an arm wrestle around the halfway line.

However, Daley-Mclean continued her excellent afternoon with a try of her own after stepping inside off the left wing, averting last-ditch tackles in the process to cross the whitewash.

She couldn’t convert that one, but she got another chance after Corson finished off a Hunt line break from close range, and this time her kick was good.

The Baa-Baas scored their fourth from a midfield scrum that went out wide, leading to a line break by Lloyd, and she didn’t need any help as she sensationally skipped past several South African defenders to score.

Daley-Mclean made it 26-0 inside 25 minutes, before Levy scored her second out wide and the skipper Hunt got a try of her own as she picked up a loose ball and ran it under the posts from distance.

The Springboks were much improved in the second half, but the Baa-Baas went over 10 minutes after the restart as Ireland prop Peat touched down at the back of a maul.

Levy wrapped up her hat-trick before Pam scored from a close range pick-and-go after coming off the bench to put her side 55-0 ahead.

South Africa could have scored with 10 minutes remaining, but England’s Katie Mason made a superb try-saving tackle on Ayanda Malinga to push her into touch.

Five minutes later, Malinga scored the best try of the game, shrugging off four defenders from 15 metres out to score.

Griffin scored the last try but, like her fellow Irish forward, she couldn’t convert as the Barbarians came away 60-5 winners.

The contest was moved forwards to an afternoon kick-off after the Barbarians men’s game against Samoa was cancelled due to six positive Covid-19 cases in the Barbarians camp.

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