Sir Clive Woodward slams ‘unjust and personal’ attacks on Owen Farrell as England captain steps back from Test rugby

Rugby World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward has laid into Owen Farrell’s critics, who may have played a part in his decision to step back from Test rugby.

Trolls on social media have long targeted the 32-year-old, and in 2023, things finally reached a breaking point.

Farrell believed that in order to safeguard the mental health of himself and his family, he had no choice but to step away from competition at the highest level.


After leading English rugby for more than ten years, Saracens’ playmaker has likely faced more scrutiny than any other player in the league.

Tournament pressure

Even though the World Cup just ended, there is still the pressure of major competitions to take into account, but Woodward maintains that the abuse he has been subjected to has been intolerable.

“With deep regret and disappointment, Farrell’s decision to leave is not shocking, especially in light of the tremendous burden and unfair criticism he has had to endure. He stated in his Daily Mail column, “Only he will know how much impact this had over his decision.

“Sport, society, and rugby have all made great strides in their knowledge of mental health, but much more work needs to be done. Both coaches and athletes have high expectations of themselves.

“They put themselves in situations that can leave you wondering how you’re going to get out of bed some days, even while they are an absolute privilege and joyful at others.

They are not the only ones bearing this weight. Their families deal with similar difficulties and demands.

He has never received the recognition he deserves, for whatever reason. He has, in fact, received a great deal of criticism, much of it unfair and personal. I wonder if that has made a difference.

RWC ban

Before the world championship, Farrell caused a stir when he was sent off during a warm-up for the World Cup after taking a risky hit on Wales’ Taine Basham.

The independent panel’s original lowering of the red card shocked and infuriated the rugby community.

The fly-half was caught in the thick of that week-long public controversy before receiving a four-match ban.

Woodward believed that anger was directed not only at the England captain but also at World Rugby and the panel that initially heard the issue.

“As players frequently do, Farrell was left vulnerable, and the subsequent attacks against him were completely unwarranted and excessive,” he continued.

“His being jeered at the World Cup perfectly encapsulated that. It was inexcusable for a player who has contributed so much.

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