England captain Farrell set for Six Nations opener despite ban

Owen Farrell is set to be available for England's opening Six Nations match against Scotland despite receiving a four-match ban for a dangerous tackle, the Rugby Football Union announced on Wednesday.

The England captain faced a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday after his shoulder made contact with the head of Jack Clement during Saracens' English Premiership victory over Gloucester last week.

Although the suspension would prevent him from running out at Twickenham in Steve Borthwick's first match in charge, against Scotland on February 4, it will be reduced to three games if he completes a coaching intervention programme.

By doing so, Farrell will be able to resume playing after Saracens' Premiership clash with Bristol on January 28.

However, if Farrell is picked in Borthwick's squad for the Six Nations when it is announced on Monday, the panel will be forced to revise what constitutes the "meaningful" fixtures that make up the ban.

Saracens' outings against Lyon, Edinburgh, Bristol and Leicester have been identified as the relevant games, with the Scotland clash omitted on the basis that England's squad for the competition has yet to be picked.

Under normal circumstances, any player included in England's Six Nations squad does not feature for their club the weekend before, so if Farrell is chosen by Borthwick on Monday the Bristol match theoretically no longer becomes relevant to the ban.

However, England could circumvent this by saying it was their intention to release Farrell back to Saracens to play against Bristol.

The alternative is that Farrell, who told the disciplinary panel that he would take the tackle technique coaching course, misses the Scots' bid to retain the Calcutta Cup.

"Should those games be cancelled or rearranged, or should there be a change of circumstances, then it will be the responsibility of the parties to consider the position and to ensure that the sanction imposed by this panel remains meaningful," the panel said in the judgement accompanying its verdict.

"If necessary, the player's free-to-play date will be amended to ensure the sanction remains meaningful. That responsibility was made clear to the parties during the hearing."

Farrell is competing with Marcus Smith and George Ford for fly-half duties and is also England's current skipper, although Borthwick may appoint a new captain.

Sale flanker Tom Curry looks likely to miss England's first two Six Nations games in another injury blow for Borthwick.

Curry, who has won 45 caps and skippered England for the first time in last season's Six Nations opener against Scotland, was hurt during Sale's Premiership victory over Harlequins on Sunday.

Borthwick is already without Exeter hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie for at least the start of the tournament after he suffered an ankle injury.

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