LONDON – Owen Farrell has insisted he has no intention of pushing the rules to breaking point as he prepares to lead England against world champions New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday.
England launched their November campaign with a 12-11 victory at home to South Africa last weekend.
But that result was overshadowed by Farrell’s controversial challenge on André Esterhuizen in the closing seconds.
In the opinion of many observers, the England flyhalf hit the Springbok replacement with an illegal ‘no arms’ tackle deserving of a penalty at the very least – a decision that would have given South Africa a kick at goal to win the match.
Yet Australian referee Angus Gardner, despite consulting the television match official, not only decided against showing Farrell a card of any colour, he also denied South Africa a penalty.
Afterwards, the citing officer decided against initiating any disciplinary action against Farrell, leaving the England co-captain free to face the All Blacks this Saturday.
Given that World Rugby’s crackdown on dangerous tackles in a bid to prevent concussion-related injuries has seen several seemingly far less severe challenges punished of late, it appeared Farrell had ridden his luck.
But England coach Eddie Jones insisted this week it was his playmaker who was in need of greater protection, not punishment, from match officials.
Meanwhile Farrell, knowing he faces extra scrutiny this weekend, insisted his tackling technique was legitimate.
“I’m not trying to play to the edge of the rules,” he said.
“I’m definitely not trying to do that, especially not when the clock has gone ‘red’ (shown the standard 80 minutes have been completed) in a Test match.
“Obviously you try and go forward and tackle... some people will and some won’t understand that when a collision is big, how difficult it is.”
This video doing the rounds. It would be quite ironic if Rassie and @Springboks got into trouble for this, but those at "fault" last Saturday got off Scott-free. Apologies, don't know who to credit. @IOLsport pic.twitter.com/749ZgApzPE
Farrell added: “But I’m well aware of the rules. I don’t want to play on the edge, I want to play within the rules.
“But that’s last weekend. It’s done, and it definitely won’t be in my head going into New Zealand.”
Leading referees and international coaches met at a World Rugby gathering in London this week, where officials declared the drive against dangerous play had to go on.
“World Rugby re-emphasised its ‘zero-tolerance’ expectation regarding the officiating of foul play in the interests of player welfare,” said a statement issued by rugby union’s global governing body.
“Following a review of recent matches, including those last weekend, match officials were reminded of their obligations in sanctioning illegal no arms tackles, high tackles and charging with the forearm or elbow.”