Charlie Atkinson, the Wasps replacement out-half, had his head taken off by Owen Farrell at the weekend in a Premiership match played at Copthall Stadium in Hendon in the borough of Barnet.
The ground was formerly known as Allianz Park – but Allianz pulled their sponsorship after all the financial impropriety and fiduciary breaches last season – yet all their signs and logos are still there. Maybe it was impolite to leave before the season is over.
Just when you thought . . .
Where do we start? Well, I suppose with the tackle.
Some reports in the press called it a clothesline tackle. A clothes-line tackle is when you are running in your back garden and your mother has taken in the sheets and pegs and all, and you run into a 20-foot length of rope at neck level, get caught at the nape of your neck, legs out in front of you, and you end up flat on your back.
Owen Farrell’s arm was angled at 90 degrees and he followed through with his shoulder. No clothes line.
What made the tackle quite that bit more dangerous than it already was, was the fact that Farrell blindsided him.
If you see a big tackle coming you can fend or brace for it. If you don’t see it coming the consequences can be 10 times worse. The whiplash you get when the body isn’t expecting contact can be devastating.
That, my friends, is why you rely on everyone on the park to play within the rules – because if you don’t someone could be killed.
What would a fair-minded, dispassionate audience make of an 87-times capped captain of England’s rugby team taking the head off an 18-year-old rookie from behind?
What would young Atkinson’s parents think of Owen Farrell – that he got the timing wrong or his tackle technique wasn’t quite good enough?
It is not down to tackle technique or mistiming. These dangerous tackles are in Farrell’s DNA. He has tackled dangerously for his entire career and will continue to do so. Getting pulled up for it is merely an occupational hazard.
I know hundreds of players who live on the edge but none of them tackle the way Farrell does.
One of the things that really rankles in these situations is the attitude of the apologistas.
I have played with Mark McCall and he has skin in the game here as the Saracens coach, but I would have expected something substantial – an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, some contrition, or a realistic and honest assessment of what we all saw.
Instead, we got ‘he got the tackle wrong.’
Everything in the press release was pitched at Farrell’s stupendous remorse. “He is incredibly regretful.”
The emphasis on Farrell’s remorse turned into comedy gold when the coach was quoted that “he was really concerned for him. You could see on his face how he felt”.
However, you couldn’t see Atkinson’s face to see how he felt because it was flat square in the dirt; the Wasps medics leaving him as he lay to check for spinal injuries.
Atkinson was knocked unconscious and when he came to – he had no idea what had happened to him but I bet he was glad that Farrell was “really concerned for him” – deeply, deeply.
Farrell may also have been deeply concerned about the ban and the fine he was going to get. He will probably never see Atkinson again but the fallout from yet another dangerous tackle – man, that is just hassle.
Lee Blackett, the Wasps coach, incredibly stood up for Farrell after stating that Atkinson was “up and talking” – not a normal situation for a player to find himself in, in the circumstances.
“We know Owen is not that type of player – he plays on the edge but never goes over that edge. He got that slightly wrong.”
What would the Wasps squad or Atkinson’s parents think of that utter b******t?
As for the independent panel . . .
Not even the most optimistic Saracens/England supporter could have hoped for such a lenient, weak-kneed and invertebrate sanction.
Three weeks – that is all it is. He can train in October and play on October 5.
Atkinson will be out for longer than that when he recovers from his concussion. What happens if the kid had picked up a really serious injury?
How is it that all these high-value players get off scot-free, particularly if there are a series of matches coming up?
Farrell now gets to play against Italy for England. When he commits another dangerous tackle – a virtual certainty – he will walk again. Diplomatic immunity?
It is a disappointment that Farrell doesn’t get to play against Leinster next week – for a variety of reasons.
If Leinster were to win I would prefer them to beat Saracens with a full deck. I would also have relished the scrap between Johnny Sexton and Farrell. Sexton takes it to the edge too but is not a dangerous tackler or a dirty player.
The absence of Farrell for a hugely anticipated quarter-final could be a distraction but I am sure Leinster will not avert their gaze from what is directly in front of them – the PRO14 final on Saturday night.
One of the things that probably caught Leinster in last year’s Champions Cup quarter-final was the fact that none of the 23 that took the field in blue that day expected to lose – no matter what sort of performance Ulster came up with. Leinster went into that match without Sexton and Robbie Henshaw. That diminution in quality in the 10-12 axis was just enough to keep Ulster in the game.
Sexton offers certainty and guidance – it is his intuition and his ability to press home an advantage or an opportunity imperceptible to the common man.
That meant that for once Leinster, in the ascendancy in possession and field position, didn’t have the tactical nous to forge ahead. They also leaked an easy early try to Kieran Treadwell.
The thing, though, was average and all that Leinster were they were surprised and unsettled by Ulster’s verve and determination.
They managed to open up Leinster seven times, played a little bit of ball out of the tackle and could easily have caught Leinster cold.
Ulster should have lost to Edinburgh last Saturday. The Scots took their foot off the pedal – given Ulster’s awful form so far you would have thought that they wouldn’t have the gumption to take advantage of their hosts’ generosity.
Wins like that galvanise you, and as we speak Ulster could be asking themselves ‘are we going to turn up and have a serious go?’ They would have looked at how awful Munster were last Friday and yet the team in red were only one score away from giving Leinster the heebie-jeebies.
John Cooney wouldn’t fluff the opportunities that JJ Hanrahan had. Even against Leinster’s shadow side two weeks ago Ulster kept playing away, and unless Leinster take Ulster to the bottom of the lake and ruthlessly drown them, I have a feeling Ulster might not go quietly into the night.
Leinster – still a long way from an optimum display this season - may not be thinking of producing their big performance until next week, but I think you will find that one will be required this Saturday.
Leinster are giving serious consideration to resting Johnny Sexton for Saturday's PRO14 final against Ulster, as Leo Cullen looks to keep his talismanic captain fresh for next week's Champions Cup quarter-final showdown with Saracens.
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In February 2014 Rob Penney, the Munster head coach, was offered a one-year extension to his contract. The venerable Cantabrian decided that the offer was too short-term and a little ungenerous and he announced three and a half months before the end of the season that he would be leaving the southern province. The allure of the NTT Communications Shining Arcs of the Japanese league was too much to resist and Penney bid adieu after 19 months in charge.