Rugby Union

Warren Gatland dubs Owen Farrell's England decision 'watershed moment'

Wales boss Warren Gatland calls Owen Farrell’s decision to step back from England a ‘watershed moment’ – as he reveals his own experience with social media trolls

  • Farrell will miss next year’s Six Nations campaign and most likely summer tours 
  • Saracens director of rugby agreed that it should be a wake-up call for the sport 
  • SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Owen Farrell’s brave decision should set the tone 

Wales head coach Warren Gatland has described Owen Farrell’s decision to make himself unavailable for selection by England as a ‘watershed moment’ for international sport. 

The Red Roses captain announced his decision to step back from the side ahead of England’s Six Nations campaign in 2024 earlier this week. 

It is also thought that Farrell will be unlikely to take part in summer to Japan and New Zealand. 

The Saracens star’s choice stems from his desire to safeguard his mental health, and that of his family, after receiving years of public backlash which reached a toxic peak over the summer and during England’s World Cup campaign. 

Despite his international pause, the RFU are thought to be keen to facilitate England captain’s return at the earliest possible opportunity, and set to offer him one of their new central contracts. 

Warren Gatland has stepped behind Owen Farrell’s decision to pause England duties this week

Farrell said that the decision was due to a need to safeguard his mental health, and his family’s 

But Gatland argued in his column for Telegraph Sport that rugby should take Farrell’s decision seriously, and use it as a ‘wake-up call’ for the abuse suffered by players in the public eye, and on social media. 

‘In many ways Owen’s decision represents a watershed moment for the game,’ the New Zealander stated. ‘It is a sad day for rugby and a sad day for sport to see someone of Owen’s standing in the game have to make the decision to walk away from the international stage just to protect his family.

‘But, ironically in making his decision, it might be the best thing for the game in that it will highlight some of the terrible things that are happening in rugby, particularly on the social media front.’

Gatland, who was re-appointed in his second stint at the helm of Wales in 2022 shared that although he was ‘largely protected’ from social media abuse, he had been personally targeted by a troll who ‘has been sending me smart, snidey comments.’

The 60-year-old added that he continued to receive messages even after he tracked down the sender, and then let him know he was aware of who he was. 

He also revealed that he had been troubled by abuse directed at his son Bryn, a professional player in Super Rugby for New Zealand’s North Harbour, and that as a father, threats against his son were ‘hard to take’. 

‘Ultimately the rugby community cares about people and I think it is time for the vast majority of us who are disgusted about what is happening to stand up for each other a bit more, or if you see something online that is out of order, shoot it down,’ Gatland added.

‘It is time for the silent majority to become the loud majority and call out these people.’

Farrell’s director of rugby at club level Mark McCall echoed these statements as he threw his full support behind his player in the face of the ‘shameful’ abuse he has received. 

‘Rugby probably does (need to do something),’ McCall said. ‘This is a wake-up call for all concerned.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said that his No10’s choice should be a ‘wake-up call’

Farrell has suffered years of public backlash, and was frequently booed at this autumn’s RWC

There’s no way a player or a person like Owen should have to face what he’s faced over a longer period of time.

‘I’ve worked with Owen every day for 15 years. He’s a family man. They’ve always come first. 

Wales international Dan Biggar also shares the sentiment, adding in conversation with Mail Sport: ‘This is a wake-up call for the game. For someone with as big a profile as Owen to come out and do this is a huge help not only for players but also clubs. 

‘As a coach or director of rugby, there’s always pressure to get your best players on the field to get results and something like this could make other teams stand up and deal with things as well as it seems England and Saracens have dealt with it.’

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