Owen Farrell has made the decision to step away from international rugby during the Six Nations in order to focus on his and his family’s mental health. He recently led England to a third place finish in the World Cup, but has not specified when he will return to the international stage. In the meantime, he will continue to serve as captain for his club team, Saracens.
In a shocking revelation, Farrell’s choice to remove himself from consideration for England’s team has left Steve Borthwick searching for a new captain for the upcoming Six Nations tournament and potentially beyond. With Courtney Lawes retired from international play, Ellis Genge is the top candidate for the position, while George Ford is the front-runner to take on the No. 10 position.
Farrell’s decision comes after he eclipsed Jonny Wilkinson as England’s top points scorer and reached 112 caps during the World Cup but the criticism that has dogged the 32‑year‑old throughout his career continued in France and he was loudly booed before matches at the tournament. A red card during England’s tournament warm-up win against Wales at Twickenham in August sparked a furore and led to his father, Andy, to hit out at what he called the “disgusting circus” surrounding his son.
Borthwick, who also came to the defense of his captain at the time, stated on Wednesday: “The entire England Rugby team supports Owen’s choice. From the moment he debuted, he has been a crucial member of the England setup for over ten years, and the expectations placed on elite athletes are incredibly demanding. He is an outstanding player, captain, and leader who always gives his best for his country. It takes great courage for Owen to make this decision to open up in this way. Along with all of us at England Rugby, I will do everything in my power to ensure he receives the necessary support moving forward.”
While Borthwick supports Farrell, his choice will disappoint the England head coach who wanted to keep building the team’s future around his captain. Borthwick is already missing key players like Lawes, Youngs, and May, who all retired from international play after the World Cup, leaving the coach with a lack of experienced leaders. Genge, who was also a vice-captain in France, was replaced by Joe Marler for the World Cup semi-final loss to South Africa.
Lawes has declined to respond to a distress call from England, who will kick off their Six Nations campaign in Rome on February 3rd. However, he recently predicted that Genge would make a great captain in the future, a statement that holds even more significance given Farrell’s recent choice.
In response to the announcement, former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio expressed his thoughts on social media, stating that he has previously stated that Owen Farrell is not only the captain of their team, but also has the potential to be one of England’s greatest players. He also expressed his dismay at the excessive amount of abuse Farrell receives and suggested that player breaks may be necessary due to the intense demands of the sport.
The Rugby Players’ Association also released a statement promising support for Farrell. “He is a leader and figurehead in the English game, but is also an individual, husband and father,” it said. “His wellbeing comes first and we will support him in every way we can going forward.”