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Owen Farrell free to play in England's Six Nations opener with four-match ban to be reduced to three weeks

England begin the Six Nations under new head coach Steve Borthwick against Scotland at Twickenham on February 4, before hosting Italy at Twickenham eight days later; the five Six Nations Tests are England's last competitive games before the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France in September

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James Cole explains why Owen Farrell has not received a longer ban after being cited for a high tackle while playing for Saracens against Gloucester

Owen Farrell will be available for England's Six Nations opener against Scotland on February 4 with his four-match ban for a high tackle set to be reduced to three weeks.

Farrell made contact with the head of Gloucester replacement Jack Clement in the 75th minute of the Premiership clash at Kingsholm on Friday, which Saracens won 19-16 thanks to Farrell's last-minute drop-goal.

The 31-year-old was handed a four-match ban on Wednesday but that will be reduced to a three-week suspension if he completes the World Rugby Coaching Intervention Programme, said a Rugby Football Union statement.

The Test at home to Scotland on Saturday February 4 will be the first in charge for new England head coach Steve Borthwick, who has succeeded the sacked Eddie Jones in the role.

Farrell - who accepted foul play but challenged that it met the red-card threshold - will miss Saracens' matches against Lyon (January 14) and Edinburgh (January 21) in the European Cup as well as the Premiership meeting with Bristol on January 28.

England's Owen Farrell
Image: Farrell's ban will be reduced from four matches to three weeks if he completes the World Rugby Coaching Intervention Programme

Farrell sanctioned for high tackle for third time

The punishment marks the third time Farrell has been punished for a high tackle.

He was banned for five weeks for a tackle on Wasps player Charlie Atkinson in 2020, with that sanction reduced from 10 weeks on account of off-field mitigating factors.

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Back in 2016, Farrell was suspended for two weeks for an illegal challenge on Wasps' Dan Robson during a European Cup semi-final.

Farrell also avoided a citing in November 2018 for a shoulder charge high to the chest of South Africa centre Andre Esterhuizen while playing for England, as the offence was deemed worthy of a yellow card and not red. Farrell avoided a sin-binning for the incident during the Test as England held on to win by a point, 12-11.

Steve Borthwick
Image: Steve Borthwick will coach England for the first time at home to Scotland next month

Borthwick leads England in the wake of Jones' sacking, after England suffered three defeats from five games in each of their last two Six Nations campaigns, leaving them far from title contention.

In 2023, England begin by hosting Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday February 4, before welcoming Italy to the home of English rugby on Sunday February 12.

They then travel to face Wales in Cardiff in Round 3 on Saturday February 25, host France in Round 4 on Saturday March 11, and finish by taking on Ireland in Dublin on Saturday March 18.

Farrell fortunate | Borthwick has decision to make

Sky Sports News reporter James Cole

"Some will say Farrell is lucky to escape a longer ban, given this was a shoulder to the head tackle, exactly the type of challenge World Rugby are looking to eradicate from the game.

"Had it been penalised on the pitch at the time, it would have been a red card.

"However, when you look at the RFU's sanctioning framework, a mid-range ban for this type of offence is six weeks, a low-end is two weeks. Farrell has been given a four-week ban, which will be reduced to three if he attends World Rugby's Coaching Intervention Programme - also known as tackle school.

"Farrell denied this was a red card offence, but did admit it was a high tackle. The panel decided it was reckless, rather than intentional.

Owen Farrell says the squad are hurting after defeat to South Africa
Image: Will Borthwick keep Farrell as England's starting fly-half and captain?

"It should be said that Farrell does have previous when it comes to high tackles. He served a five-week ban in September 2020, and his technique has been questioned because he tackles in a very upright position.

"The tackle debate aside, the long and the short of it is that Farrell will be available for the start of England's Six Nations campaign, which means new head coach Steve Borthwick has some decisions to make.

"Will Farrell be his starting fly-half and continue as captain?"

Curry set to miss start of Six Nations

Flanker Tom Curry is set to miss the first two rounds of the Six Nations after tearing his hamstring during Sale's Premiership victory over Harlequins on Sunday.

Tom Curry playing rugby union for England (PA Images)
Image: Tom Curry could return for England against Wales on February 25

Curry, who has won 45 caps and skippered England for the first time in last season's Six Nations opener against Scotland, could return against Wales on February 25 with Sale rugby director Alex Sanderson saying the back-row's injury is not as serious as first thought.

Sanderson said: "With it being a 2c (grade tear) and Tom being very diligent on his rehab, it means he could be back for Wales. So that is a real positive for England and all of us, because I want England to do well.

"He gets on with things quick, Tom. He has got his head around it, and he is focused on the Six Nations. Now that he knows it could have been six-eight [weeks], but more likely four-six, he is more positive about it."

Exeter hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie will also miss at least the start of the Six Nations after suffering an ankle injury.

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