Rugby red cards: What happened with Farrell and how does the bunker system work?

Credit: PA

Report by Jossie Evans, ITV News' Here's the Story

England will begin their World Cup campaign without two of their big-name players when the rugby tournament kicks off in France.

Captain Owen Farrell and number eight Billy Vunipola have both been issued bans following a red card each in England's recent Summer Series.

Neither, however, began as a red card - both were upgraded to the sanction via rugby's new bunker system.

Here's how it works, and why it's being adopted at this year's rugby World Cup.

What is the bunker system?

The Television Match Official (TMO) bunker offers a chance for officials to review potential foul play, without crowds watching on, while play continues.

In rugby, red cards are given for clear and obvious foul play involving contact with the head.

With this system, where a red card is not obvious, the on-field referee can issue a yellow card (making the player sit out the game for ten minutes) while the bunker officials use technology and footage to review the incident.

The yellow card can either be upheld, or the bunker review results in it being upgraded to a red and the player permanently leaving the field.

Wales' Dan Biggar reacts to Owen Farrell's (not pictured) card being upgraded to a red. Credit: PA

Why's it being used?

Rugby authorities have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years with regards to their record on player safety.

England's 2003 World Cup winner Steve Thompson is among 169 former players involved in a lawsuit against World Rugby (and the English and Welsh unions) who are accused of "abject failure" in the management of concussions - a claim denied by the three organisations.

World Rugby says the TMO Bunker is one way to advance welfare in the sport, as well as "reduce lengthy stoppages and promote accurate decision-making for foul play" within the game.

Having been trialled at various competitions before this year's world cup, officials have now confirmed it will be used for the tournament.

What happened with Owen Farrell?

The system has been trialled during this year's Summer Series and has been at the centre of a fair bit of controversy.

Owen Farrell became the first England player to receive a red card under the new bunker review system when he made a high tackle on Wales' Taine Basham on August 12.

After being issued a yellow on-field, the bunker officials upgraded it to a red and Farrell was sent off for the rest of the match.

Farrell is given a yellow card, under review, during the game against Wales. Credit: PA

But a red card doesn't just last for the one game, players are also issued with a ban for certain number of weeks or matches. This put Farrell's participation in some, potentially all, of England's World Cup campaign in doubt.

That ban can be shortened if a player attends a "tackle school" - but Farrell has already been through that and so this time around it wasn't an option.

All this went away, however, following Farrell's initial disciplinary hearing over the incident.

Led by Six Nations (which runs the Summer Series) the panel found enough of a mitigating factor (ie. Basham changed direction following a hit from another player, which impacted Farrell's tackle) to rescind the red card and downgrade it back to a yellow.

The bunker review system hadn't judged that to be a mitigating factor and yet in its written decision, the panel said it made "no criticism" of the system and criticism "in our opinion, would any be warranted" - which many felt was at odds with overturning the decision.

There was a furious backlash against the decision, with critics arguing it undermined the pledges to player safety made by authorities.

As it was a Six Nations hearing, World Rugby had the right to appeal the decision to overturn the card and did so.

On 22 August, Farrell's red card was reinstated by the appeal panel who ruled the tackle was "always illegal".

The captain was issued a four-game ban meaning he'll miss England's first two World Cup pool games - as well as two warm-up fixtures.

While Farrell's incident has dominated the headlines due to the nature of the disciplinary hearings, his teammate Vunipola has also been handed a ban following a red card against Ireland.

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