Owen Farrell is available to lead England against world champions New Zealand next weekend after it was announced he would face no disciplinary action for a controversial tackle in the closing seconds of a tense 12-11 win over South Africa.
Farrell had kicked an England side missing several senior players into a one-point lead with his third successful penalty seven minutes from time at Twickenham on Saturday.
But there was drama right at the end when, with 80 minutes on the clock, referee Angus Gardner consulted the television match official to see if fly-half Farrell had committed an illegal ‘no-arms’ tackle on Springbok replacement Andre Esterhuizen.
The Australian official could have awarded South Africa a penalty which, had it gone over, would have seen the visitors snatch victory in the opening match of their European tour.
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But Gardner, despite World Rugby’s current crackdown on dangerous play, eventually decided against penalising Farrell’s challenge, even though it appeared the England co-captain was leading with his shoulder.
Citing commissioner Keith Brown had 24 hours from Saturday’s final whistle to decide if the challenge had warranted a red card, a move that would have led to a disciplinary hearing.
But a World Rugby spokesman told AFP via telephone on Sunday that England co-captain Farrell would not face disciplinary action.
Most pundits agreed that Farrell’s challenge was a yellow-card offence at worst, although plenty of observers felt Gardner should have awarded the Springboks a penalty at the very least.
“It’s hard to keep your arms round when someone’s running that hard but thankfully there was a bit of common sense,” Farrell told Sky Sports soon after full-time on Saturday.
Meanwhile England coach Eddie Jones was in sarcastic mood when asked during his post-match press conference about the possibility of being without Farrell for the November 10 clash against the All Blacks at Twickenham.
“You can get cited for something you did at a party when you were 15, anything could happen,” he said.
“I’ve got no idea what can happen,” added the Australian ahead of what will be England’s first match against New Zealand in four years.
Frustrated Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus was left to bemoan Farrell’s challenge, saying acidly: “If it was all legal — and I didn’t have a good look at the replay — we should start tackling like that.”
© Agence France-Presse