Owen Farrell, who completed a ban for a dangerous tackle just in time for the Six Nations, wants England to lead the way in making rugby safer.
The England captain’s participation in his side’s tournament opener against Scotland on February 4 was thrown into doubt after he was suspended for four weeks for an illegal tackle while playing for club side Saracens earlier this month.
But the ban was reduced to three weeks because the 31-year-old fly-half and centre agreed to complete World Rugby’s coaching intervention programme and he is now available for the match at Twickenham.
He said the programme had been helpful.
“What it does do, you look at what you could do better from the situation you were in in the first place and I’ve obviously had time to step back and have a look at that and learn from it,” Farrell said at the Six Nations launch event in London on Monday.
Rugby has been grappling with the issue of head injuries and concussions. A group of former players diagnosed with early onset dementia and other irreversible neurological conditions are involved in a legal action, alleging negligence by a number of governing bodies.
The Rugby Football Union announced last week it had approved a reduction, from July 1, in tackle height across community rugby in England — to waist height or below — in an effort to reduce head impacts and concussion risk.
“In terms of where the game is going and trying to make the game safer, and making sure it’s played in the right way, and being a good example for everybody, I think the game and the RFU are trying to make sure that it’s going in the right direction,” said Farrell.
“We, as an England team, want to make sure we’re at the forefront of that and want to make sure we’re preparing in a way where we can play as hard as we possibly can, and make sure it’s as fair and safe as we possibly can too. I want to play a big part of that.”
New England coach Steve Borthwick, alongside Farrell at Monday’s launch, said more than 100 players had completed World Rugby’s intervention programme.
“We’re trying to address keeping the physical intensity of this game, and make sure it’s a safe sport for generations to come. I think that it’s great we’re trying to do that,” he said.
“Some of the tutorials for that course were led by Kevin Sinfield, who is coaching our defence. In the England rugby team we want to show fight, play physically but also, we want to be fair.”
But others at the London event voiced concerns over the new rules on tackle height, including Ireland coach Andy Farrell, Owen’s father.
“If you’re just saying to a kid that you need to tackle lower, then you become even more vulnerable in my opinion,” he said. “If you’re just sitting there with your arms in front trying to wrap with your head down, you’re a sitting duck waiting to happen.
“So the coaching and the technique of how it’s applied to tackling below the waist is absolutely crucial, otherwise we’re going to have a serious problem.”
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton, whose career has been interrupted by several head injuries, said he was opposed to the new rules, stressing that it was more important to focus on “reckless, out-of-control” tackles.
“Hitting someone there (on the torso) should be an option,” he said. “It’s not like you can’t get concussed chopping someone’s knees. I see a hell of a lot of concussions with people getting their head on the wrong side, a knee to the temple or a hip even to the side of the head.”
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