Owen Farrell is set to be available for England’s opening Six Nations match against Scotland despite receiving a four-match ban for a dangerous tackle during a game for club side Saracens, the Rugby Football Union announced on Wednesday.
The England captain faced a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday after his shoulder made contact with the head of Jack Clement during Saracens’ English Premiership victory over Gloucester last week.
Although the four-match suspension would prevent him from running out at Twickenham in Steve Borthwick’s first match in charge, against Scotland on February 4, it will be reduced to three games if he completes a coaching intervention programme.
By doing so, the Farrell will be able to resume playing after Saracens’ Premiership clash with Bristol on January 28.
However, if Farrell is picked in Borthwick’s squad for the Six Nations when it is announced on Monday, the panel will be forced to revise what constitutes the “meaningful” fixtures that make up the ban.
Saracens’ outings against Lyon, Edinburgh, Bristol Bears and Leicester Tigers have been identified as the relevant games, with the Scotland clash omitted on the basis that England’s squad for the competition has yet to be picked.
Under normal circumstances, any player included in England’s Six Nations squad does not feature for their club the weekend before, so if Farrell is chosen by Borthwick on Monday the Bristol match theoretically no longer becomes relevant to the ban.
It raises the possibility that Farrell, who told the disciplinary panel that he would take the tackle technique coaching course, would be overlooked by England on Monday and play against Bristol, thereby making him available to face Scotland.
“Should those games be cancelled or rearranged, or should there be a change of circumstances, then it will be the responsibility of the parties to consider the position and to ensure that the sanction imposed by this panel remains meaningful,” the panel said in the judgement accompanying its verdict.
“If necessary, the player’s free-to-play date will be amended to ensure the sanction remains meaningful. That responsibility was made clear to the parties during the hearing.”
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