Owen Farrell: Clive Woodward hopes England captain's break inspires more sabbaticals in rugby union

November 30, 2023

Sir Clive Woodward hopes Owen Farrell's "brave" decision to step away from England duty to focus on his and his family's mental wellbeing inspires more players within rugby union to take sabbaticals.

Farrell, England's record points scorer, will miss the 2024 Six Nations with his club, Saracens, announcing the news on Wednesday afternoon.

The 32-year-old has 112 international caps and led his country to the semi-finals of the recent World Cup in France but his place in the side has come under scrutiny and he was booed during the tournament.

Woodward - who coached England to World Cup glory in 2003 - said the criticism Farrell has received is "unjust" while former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio called it "sickening."

Writing in the Mail Online, Woodward said of Farrell, who will continue to play club rugby: "I hope, with the decision made and the outpouring of support he has received, he 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?

"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?

"[Farrell] 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.

Woodward: Farrell criticism 'unjust and uncalled for'

"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," said Woodward.

"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.

"Farrell is one of England's greatest ever players… 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."

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