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England rugby captain Owen Farrell steps back from national team amid mental health struggle, as colleagues rally round
29 November 2023, 18:50
England rugby players have offered a show of support to Owen Farrell after the captain stepped back from the national team.
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Farrell, 32, will not take part in the Six Nations next year, although he will continue to play for Saracens, his club.
The fly-half has turned out 112 times for England, and is the national team's highest scoring player of all time.
England head coach Steve Borthwick, teammate Luther Burrell and the Rugby Players Association all lent Farrell their support.
Several former rugby players and commentators have previously highlighted the criticism Farrell has received, with ex-teammate James Haskell calling his treatment "toxic".
Saracens said Farrell had made the decision "in order to prioritise his and his family's mental well-being".
They added in a statement: "This means he will not be available for selection for the 2024 Six Nations.
"He will continue to play for Saracens and captain the club.
"As always, Owen will have the full support of everyone at the club."
Borthwick said that everyone in the England rugby set-up was "fully behind Owen’s decision".
"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," Borthwick added.
"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."
The Rugby Players Association, which represents rugby players in England, said that Farrell had their "unconditional support".
"He is a leader and a figurehead in the English game, but is also an individual, husband and father.
"His wellbeing comes first and we will support him in every way we can going forward."
Luther Burrell, Farrell's former England teammate said the decision came as a surprise, but makes sense.
"A player of Owen Farrell's class and leadership ability, to do this act of courage shows true bravery, and a true testament of his character," he told Sky Sports News.
"But when you look deeper into it, you can almost understand why it's come to this point. He was bombarded with scrutiny... Rugby players, we're not robots, we do have emotions, and I think sometimes that is forgotten.
"He has come under such scrutiny in the past decade, and had his game analysed by people behind their keyboards, so I'm not too surprised it's come to this. I'm just disheartened this is the way he's seeing his time away from international duty.
Owen Farrell will take a break from international rugby to prioritise his and his family’s mental well-being.— The RPA (@theRPA) November 29, 2023
Owen has the full support of the RPA. pic.twitter.com/q9JvPxPW90
"If any player has earned a sabbatical, it's someone like Owen.
"It's very troubling times. Owen has that ability to lead from the front, we see that from the way he plays, so with that you're naturally going to come under some scrutiny. He's England captain, amassed over 100 caps, he's the all-time leading point scorer for our country, passing Jonny Wilkinson who is a legend.
"It's troubling that the pressure from outside of his job is what I believe to leading him now to take his time away. That's really disheartening, because rugby is a game for all and supported across the world."