Centre’s upright style is the root of his problems
Owen Farrell clearly prefers making upright tackles. This may be a legacy of his background in rugby league, but there are other factors at play as well. As a fly-half or centre, his channel will often be crowded with team-mates attempting lower tackles on the same carrier – leaving him with nowhere else to go. A chief organiser in defence for both Saracens and England, Farrell also yearns to set a tone with aggressive challenges that wrap up potential offloads. Upright tackles regularly allow him to remain on his feet for the following phase. But they offer precious little margin for error.
When Farrell caught Anthony Watson around the jaw in the 2015 Premiership final, he was completing a tackle that Mako Vunipola initiated as part of a Saracens kick-chase. An off-the-ball tackle on Matt Giteau, which cost him a yellow card against Australia later that year,
came after Farrell picked the wrong runner as the Wallabies flooded the line. He has had problems with a failure to wrap his arms as well, which can reflect a lack of control. That is far more likely to be the issue than malice or ignorance of the laws. Ironically, the only tackle that had brought him a suspension before the weekend, on Dan Robson against Wasps in 2016, was made with Farrell in a bent position on impact. His speed into contact, allied to Robson’s slip, made the collision look far worse. There is a case that Charlie Atkinson also dipped slightly when throwing a dummy on Saturday. You will see swinging arms in plenty of tackles at elite level. The vast majority land around the torso of their targets. Farrell connected far higher. Undoubtedly, he was clumsy and reckless. Possibly frustrated an hour into a flat performance – both from an individual standpoint and from Saracens collectively – Farrell attempted to line up Atkinson and make a forceful tackle around the 18-year-old’s chest. Thankfully, Atkinson seems to have recovered. Farrell will pay the price.