Owen Farrell to stop playing for England after being booed by fans

Owen Farrell of England applauds during the Summer International match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on August 12, 2023 in London, England
Owen Farrell's absence leaves a vacancy for the England captain's job - Getty Images/Andrew Kearns

Owen Farrell decided to step back from England duties to protect his and his family’s mental health after the pressure of international captaincy, including being booed by his own fans, became overbearing.

Farrell was jeered in stadiums when he appeared on screen or his name was read out throughout the World Cup in which he became England’s record points scorer. Telegraph Sport understands that was one of several factors that influenced his decision on Wednesday, having also struggled to cope with the fallout from his controversial red card in a warm-up match in August.

The 32-year-old, who led England to third place last month, has elected to miss next year’s Six Nations after deciding to “take a break from international rugby in order to prioritise his and his family’s mental well-being” in a statement released by Saracens.

Farrell will continue to play for his club but the fly-half has not provided a date on when he will return to international duty, with England scheduled to tour Japan and New Zealand next summer. His decision has received the backing of England head coach Steve Borthwick who praised his “courage”, but must now select a new captain for the 2024 Six Nations.

Owen Farrell of England looks dejected at full-time after their team's defeat in the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between England and South Africa at Stade de France on October 21, 2023 in Paris, France
Farrell was booed by both England fans and those of other nationalities during the World Cup - Getty Images/Adam Pretty

“Everyone at England Rugby is fully behind Owen’s decision,” Borthwick said. “Since making his debut, he has been an integral part of the England set up for over a decade and the demands on elite athletes are extremely challenging. He is an exemplary player, captain and leader and always gives his all for his country.

“It is with typical courage that Owen has made this decision to open up in this manner. Together with all of us at England Rugby, I will do everything I can to ensure that he has the support he requires going forward.”

Not for the first time, Farrell appeared at the centre of a high-tackle storm after being sent-off for his hit on Wales flanker Taine Basham in a World Cup warm-up match. After initially being cleared, Farrell was subsequently hit with a four-match ban. His father, Andy, the head coach of Ireland, hit out at what he described as the “circus” surrounding his son and hinted at the toll it took on the family.

“I’d probably get his mother up here to do an interview with you, and you’ll see the human side of the bulls--- that’s happening,” Farrell senior said. “Or maybe get his wife to write a book on it, because then you’ll probably see the impact that it’s having on not just the professional player, but the families and the human side that goes with it.”

Former England captain Chris Robshaw, who was faced his fair share of criticism around the 2015 World Cup pool stage exit, said: “Such a shame we criticise and go after our captain, when he is constantly one of England’s best players, role models and leading point scorer!

“He will be missed massively. Hopefully he can mentally relax, be with his family and get the support he needs.”

After sitting out the first two matches of the World Cup through suspension, Borthwick quickly restored Farrell to the starting line-up where he became a lightning rod for crowd catcalls during the tournament, and not just from opposition fans. Defence coach Kevin Sinfield compared his treatment to that of David Beckham following the footballer’s sending off in the 1998 World Cup while attack coach Richard Wigglesworth believes he was a victim of tall-poppy syndrome. “As ever, the tallest trees catch the most wind, and he seems to catch a fair bit of it,” Wigglesworth said.

Farrell to miss Six Nations and step away from international rugby: as it happened

04:52 PM GMT

Watch: Farrell interaction with referee

04:27 PM GMT

Twitter reaction

04:12 PM GMT

'Toxic abuse'

On an episode of the podcast ‘The Good, The Bad & The Rugby’ published in October, former England flanker and teammate of Farrell’s, James Haskell, called for an end to social media abuse aimed at him.

“Can everyone just stop having a go at Owen Farrell? I’ve never heard such a load of toxic abuse of one player,” Haskell said.

“It’s awful, and I don’t understand what you think you’re trying to achieve apart from just trying to bully someone who plays his heart out for his country.

“He’s won more than 120 caps, he’s the all-time top points scorer, in every team he’s played in, all his team-mates love him.”

On the same episode, former Ireland international Shane Horgan added: “I’m trying to think why it is, because it is unbelievably toxic, and it’s directed at him in an unusual fashion.

“I wonder if it’s because he comes from a non-traditional background and it’s easier to have a go at the guy who’s come from the ‘leaguey’ background as it were.

“He takes a ridiculous amount of stick for somebody who should be hailed and lauded.”

03:55 PM GMT

Rugby Players' Association statement

03:53 PM GMT

Telegraph readers react

  • Wish him and his family all the very best. He has been an incredibly loyal and hard working player and captain of England. He deserves whatever time he wants to take. Jerry Markham 

  • The thing is Owen you’ll probably only be missed by the average armchair “supporter” when you’ve stopped playing. I think we won the lottery as a country to get you as our captain. Look after yourself and your family. Damian Cox

  • Sadly the dark side of modern life with social media. Lots of cowards sitting behind keyboards and it’s encouraged people to be more unpleasant in general. Life was/is better without it, good for him stepping back if he’s had enough. TM

  • Good for Farrell, the sheer level of abuse has been pathetic (and wildly misplaced) for far too long and he’s still the best FH in the country. Ben D

  • I feel very sad that he has had to take this step and my heart goes out to him. He gives everything for his country and those that abuse him on SM should feel contrition - but I fear that sadly they won’t. Where is the kindness, tolerance and positivity that was once such a feature of the game. I wish him well and hope to see him back in the white of England as soon as possible. Robert Williams

03:48 PM GMT

'Absolutely disgusting'

The spotlight appeared to be fixed upon Farrell more than ever both in the build-up to and, and during, the recent World Cup.

During a warm-up match against Wales, Farrell was sent off for a high tackle on Taine Basham only for an independent disciplinary panel to subsequently clear him. World Rugby later confirmed they would be conducting their own hearing, which later upheld Farrell’s red card, seeing him suspended for four-matches – including England’s first two World Cup pool matches.

Farrell’s father and Ireland coach, Andy, called the media coverage of his son in the build-up to the World Cup ‘a circus’.

“Whatever I say anyway is probably flawed. When you’re talking about somebody’s son and asking the question, it’s always going to be flawed, so what does that really matter,” Farrell began.

“I don’t normally say too much because of that type of reason about my son, but what I probably would say at this moment in time, is that the circus that’s gone in and around all this is absolutely disgusting, in my opinion. Disgusting. I suppose those people that have loved their time in the sun get a few more days to keep going at that.”

03:45 PM GMT

Borthwick in need of a new captain

His combative approach, both in terms of his tackling technique and approach to dealing with referees, has put plenty of noses out of joint. While he often seems impervious to the criticism, he will now sit out the 2024 Six Nations and potentially beyond that.

Farrell’s decision leaves Borthwick in need of a new captain for the 2024 Six Nations. Ellis Genge captained England during Farrell’s absence in the Six Nations match against France while Courtney Lawes took on the role early in the World Cup.

However Lawes has since retired and indicated that he is not prepared to answer any SOS from Borthwick while Genge fell behind Joe Marler in the pecking order at loosehead.

Sale Sharks’ Ford will be favourite to fill the No 10 shirt while Northampton’s Fin Smith and Harlequins’ Marcus Smith will also come into the equation.

03:41 PM GMT

'Grim that it's come to this'

03:40 PM GMT

'The situation is amplified'

In August, Steve Borthwick leaped to Farrell’s defence amid the furore over his red card.

“The situation with the England team and Owen in particular seems to be amplified. The commentary around it seems to move from an issue around the tackle to personal attacks on the character of the man, which I think is just wrong,” Borthwick said.

03:28 PM GMT

Farrell prioritises family

Owen Farrell of England walks on the pitch with his sons as players of Ireland celebrate winning the Grand Slam during the Six Nations Rugby match between Ireland and England at Aviva Stadium on March 18, 2023 in Dublin, Ireland
Farrell's decision was motivated by a need to protect 'his and his family's mental well-being' - Getty Images/Dan Mullan

03:23 PM GMT

'You are dealing with people, with human beings'

Following England’s exit from the World Cup, Farrell spoke in defence of Tom Curry and the vicious online abuse the flanker received in the wake of his accusations against Bongi Mbonambi.

“Tom’s been first class this week like he always is,” said Farrell. “What isn’t understandable, is the amount of abuse he’s got. The effect that has, not just on him, as well, is the bit that I and we really don’t understand. And I know it seems to be going more and more like this, but it shouldn’t be, it shouldn’t be.

“You are dealing with people, with human beings. Just because you’re saying stuff on your phone or behind a computer screen doesn’t make it acceptable.

“It seems to be going more and more this way, and I don’t think it’s acceptable,” he added.

03:20 PM GMT

Saracens status

This is a breaking story but it is important to make clear at this juncture that Farrell will continue to play for Saracens during his break from international rugby.

03:17 PM GMT

'This should leave people feeling pretty cold'

03:13 PM GMT

Farrell will not play in the Six Nations

Owen Farrell will not be available for selection for the 2024 Six Nations after deciding to take a break from international rugby to prioritise his and his family’s mental health.

The England captain will still play for Saracens, but it is unclear when he will be back available for England.

Head coach Steve Borthwick released a statement, supporting his captain’s decision.

“Everyone at England Rugby is fully behind Owen’s decision,” said Borthwick.

“Since making his debut, he has been an integral part of the England set up for over a decade and the demands on elite athletes are extremely challenging. He is an exemplary player, captain and leader and always gives his all for his country.

“It is with typical courage that Owen has made this decision to open up in this manner.

“Together with all of us at England Rugby, I will do everything I can to ensure that he has the support he requires going forward.”