England captain Farrell to miss Six Nations to prioritise mental health

Wed, Nov 29, 2023, 9:55 PM
AFP
by AFP
England captain Owen Farrell will not be available for the 2024 Six Nations. Photo: Getty Images
England captain Owen Farrell will not be available for the 2024 Six Nations. Photo: Getty Images

England captain Owen Farrell will not be available for the 2024 Six Nations after deciding to take a break from international rugby "to prioritise his and his family's mental wellbeing".

In a statement on Wednesday, English Premiership club Saracens said the 32-year-old would continue to captain and play for them.

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"Owen Farrell has decided to take a break from international rugby in order to prioritise his and his family's mental well-being," Saracens said.

"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."

Farrell has won 112 caps since making his international debut in 2012 and is England's all-time leading points scorer, amassing 1,237 points.

The fly-half captained England to the final of the 2019 World Cup and the last four at this year's World Cup in France -- their campaign ended with a heartbreaking 16-15 defeat to eventual winners South Africa.

In his absence, and following the international retirement of Courtney Lawes, Bristol prop Ellis Genge is a probable successor as skipper while George Ford and Marcus Smith are expected to battle it out for the fly-half role.

England head coach Steve Borthwick hailed Farrell's courage for opening up about his mental health.

"He is an exemplary player, captain and leader and always gives his all for his country," he said.

"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."

The Rugby Players' Association said Farrell, whom they described as a "leader and figurehead in the English game" had its unconditional support.

- Elite pressure -

Farrell was sent off in a World Cup warm-up game against Wales, which resulted in a four-match ban that meant he missed England's opening two fixtures at the tournament.

He came under fire on social media and at times during the World Cup he was booed by sections of the crowd.

Farrell is the latest high-profile sports star to draw attention to mental pressures at the elite level.

England Test cricket captain Ben Stokes took a six-month break in 2021 to prioritise his mental health before making a successful return.

US gymnastics superstar Simone Biles took a two-year break from the sport, only returning to action in recent months.

England begin their Six Nations campaign away to Italy on February 3.

Borthwick's men also travel to Scotland and France, with Wales and Ireland set to make the trip to Twickenham.

England have not won the Six Nations title since 2020 but were the only northern hemisphere side to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup.

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