Owen Farrell's brave decision to step back from international rugby should stress the importance of differentiating the player from the man, according to Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll.
The English captain stepped down from international duty citing his mental wellbeing last month. He is set to miss the 2024 international season, but will continue to tog out for Saracens this year.
The son of the Irish head coach has been the target of social media abuse in recent years, with his tackle technique in particular being criticised, however the abuse has crossed over into the personal as well.
It is this personal abuse that Brian O'Driscoll feels is unacceptable, and the rugby public needs to stamp out of the game.
Farrell's decision to step back
Speaking on Off The Ball, O'Driscoll discussed the criticism that Farrell has received, and why it has crossed the line.
"The thing about Owen Farrell is you're still entitled to critique a questionable tackle technique at times, over the course of the last number of years," O'Driscoll said.
"But culminating in some of his own fans booing him in the stadium before the quarter final against Toulouse is unfathomable.
"That's insane! Your captain, one of your best players, a proper leader within the environment."
'He's a great sort'
Farrell's personality and character has been highlighted by his critics on social media in the abuse aimed at him. However, O'Driscoll suggests that the insults and character assessments flung at the Saracens outhalf could not be further from the truth.
"I know Owen Farrell personally," O'Driscoll said. "I don't know anyone that has spent time with him that doesn't like Owen Farrell.
"He's maybe been guilty of not being overly effusive in the media, because it's not in his nature. So, even as captain sometimes it's a bit of a challenge to go and deliver and maybe be out of his comfort zone.
"As captain you're forced to go and speak on behalf of your team. Then, sometimes when you don't get a proper sense of that person away from the pitch, which the vast majority of people don't, he's and easy target.
"Because he's confrontational on the pitch, because he is a winner, because he challenges referees, because he pushes the boundaries.
"Away from it all, people know he is a great sort and someone that drives standards and expects high things from those around him.
"That's why I think there's a great confusion with anyone that has any involvement within rugby and has played or trained or knows him is that he is a very, very good person.
"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. You're not going to be a dick if you're Andy Farrell's son, you're just not."
Critique the player, not the man
While he still wants rugby supporters, pundits and analysts to be able to discuss the game and the mistakes of players on the pitch, O'Driscoll hopes that that is where the criticisms stop: on the pitch.
"We are still, as analysts and pundits and the public in general, to query a technique, but it's not character assassination," O'Driscoll said.
"Just because someone gets a tackle wrong every so often it doesn't make them a thug. It doesn't allow you to deliver the type of vitriol that has been thrown at him. It's unacceptable!"
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