Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall hopes Owen Farrell’s decision to take a break from international rugby to prioritise his mental well-being will prove to be a wake-up call for the sport; the England captain announced on Wednesday he will not play in next year’s Six Nations
Last Updated: 30/11/23 3:51pm
Mark McCall has criticised the treatment of Owen Farrell in what he believes should be a wake-up call for rugby union.
Farrell will miss the Six Nations after deciding to take a break from international rugby in order to prioritise his and his family’s mental well-being, although he will continue to play for club Saracens.
The unexpected decision comes after the 32-year-old fly-half led England to a third-place finish in the recent World Cup after losing to champions South Africa by a point in the semi-final.
Farrell has long been a lightening-rod figure in the sport, but the condemnation peaked in August when he was sent off for a dangerous tackle against Wales, a decision which was overturned by a disciplinary hearing only to then incur a ban on appeal.
England’s captain was frequently booed in France, sometimes with his family present in the stadium, and Saracens director of rugby McCall is impressed that he delivered a series of strong performances despite shouldering a heavy burden.
“It’s remarkable that he played the way he played during the World Cup, if we take into account how he was feeling,” McCall said.
“He is a person who is right on top of his game at the moment, yet he and his family have been made to feel the way they feel. It is shameful – it’s not right.
“I’ve worked with Owen for 15 years, every day, and the person that has been portrayed in the media bears no resemblance to the person I know. He’s a family man, they’ve always come first.
He is a person who is right on top of his game at the moment, yet he and his family have been made to feel the way they feel. It is shameful – it’s not right.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall on Owen Farrell
“There was a narrative created and started and that’s been there for quite some time. There’s only so much that someone can take. On top of that, he’s a brilliant, caring, supportive team-mate and a loyal friend to many, and a very good, decent human being. That’s the person I know.
“It was courageous and brave of him to open up. I admire Owen for many reasons anyway, but even more for doing this. I’m not worried about Europe or the club at all. I’m worried about Owen. We want him to be OK and happy. Clearly he hasn’t been.”
Woodward: Farrell criticism ‘unjust and uncalled for’
Sir Clive Woodward hopes Farrell’s decision to step away from England duty to focus on his and his family’s mental well-being inspires more players within rugby union to take sabbaticals.
Woodward – who coached England to World Cup glory in 2003 – also said the criticism Farrell has received is “unjust” while former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio called it “sickening”.
Writing for Mail Online, Woodward said of Farrell: “The first and most important thing is to acknowledge the brave and correct decision 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.
“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.
“I hope Farrell sets the tone and inspires new thinking in this area. Why is taking a sabbatical not more common?
“No doubt they [the Rugby Football Union] will blame others – especially the media – and create another nameless committee to investigate and put forward their thoughts with zero accountability. 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. The world’s best businesses build sabbaticals into their HR processes as paid leave. Why not rugby?”