Owen Farrell's mental health break follows part-time England psychological provision

Owen Farrell, the England World Cup captain, faces the media during the England rugby World Cup squad announcement at Twickenham Stadium on August 07, 2023 in London, England

The Rugby Football Union scaled back psychological support for the England men’s team at this year’s World Cup in France.

In a week when England captain Owen Farrell announced he will be taking a break from international rugby to protect his and his family’s mental health, Telegraph Sport can reveal that Steve Borthwick’s side only had in person access to a sports psychologist on a part-time basis throughout the tournament, with the specialist attending England camp two to three days a week.

It marks a cutback in mental wellbeing provision for the England squad, who previously benefited from continuous support from a sports psychologist.

The reduction in psychological support for Borthwick’s outfit also is at odds with the increased mental wellbeing provision that was afforded to the England women’s team at last year’s women’s World Cup in New Zealand.

The Red Roses previously received psychological support from the English Institute of Sport on an ad-hoc basis, but a full-time psychologist, Helen Davis, flew out with the team and stayed with them for the duration of the tournament.

Ireland and Scotland were among the nations who brought experienced mental skills coaches to this year’s men’s World Cup in Gary Keegan and Aaron Walsh respectively, who both travelled to France.

Sports psychologists – sometimes referred to by players as ‘mental coaches’ – were a regular feature under Eddie Jones, who hired Jeremy Snape and Dan Abrahams in a part-time capacity between 2016 and 2018.

Psychological support was at the forefront of England’s preparation for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, when Jones contracted Dr Andrea Furst, the highly rated psychologist who was widely credited for helping the Great Britain women’s hockey team win a historic gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, on a full-time basis in the build up to the tournament.

Jones had a habit of seeking out forensic experts to help heal the psychological scars England suffered at World Cups, including their early exit in 2015 and World Cup final loss four years later, and regularly talked up their importance.

In January 2020, he said of England’s 2019 World Cup final defeat to South Africa: “I don’t think you ever get over it, you carry it with you but it’s how you deal with the scar.”

Part of the rationale behind the RFU’s decision to not have on-site full-time psychologist support for the men is understood to be based on the geographical location of recent rugby World Cups, with Northern France being significantly closer to the UK than New Zealand.

Such an argument, however, would appear to lack weight given the increased focus on athlete wellbeing in professional sport, coupled with the spate of abuse that has recently been directed at high profile figures in rugby, including England flanker Tom Curry.

Farrell slammed the online vilification of Curry after the Sale player alleged he was racially abused by Springboks hooker Bongi Mbonambi during England’s semi-final loss to South Africa.

“The effect that has on him is the bit that I, and we, really don’t understand,” Farrell said of the social media abuse directed to Curry.

“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. I don’t think it’s acceptable.”

When asked about the psychological provision, the RFU said: “The England men’s team identified the psychological support required before and during the Rugby World Cup and this support will continue.”