Media and fan treatment of England captain Owen Farrell has been criticised as "shameful" and "shocking", after the fly-half announced he would be taking a break from international rugby to "prioritise his and his family's mental well-being".
Farrell's decision means he will miss the Six Nations, although he will continue to play for his club side, Saracens.
Mark McCall, Saracens director of rugby, said Farrell's decision should act as a wake-up call for the game, while Farrell's former teammate Max Malins praised him as "brave" for taking a step back from the international game.
The unexpected decision comes after the 32-year-old led England to a third-place finish in the recent World Cup, after losing to champions South Africa by a point in the semi-final.
Farrell has long been a lightning rod figure in the sport, but the condemnation peaked in August when he was sent off for a dangerous tackle against Wales, a decision that was overturned by a disciplinary hearing only to then incur a ban on appeal.
The player's father - Ireland head coach Andy Farrell - labelled media coverage of the episode "a circus", while Owen Farrell was subjected to considerable attacks on social media and at times during the World Cup he was booed by sections of the crowd during England games.
"It's remarkable that he played the way he played during the World Cup, if we take into account how he was feeling," McCall said.
"He is a person who is right on top of his game at the moment, yet he and his family have been made to feel the way they feel. It is shameful. It’s not right.
"I've worked with Owen for 15 years, every day, and the person that has been portrayed in the media bears no resemblance to the person I know. He's a family man, they've always come first.
"There was a narrative created and started and that's been there for quite some time. There's only so much that someone can take.
"On top of that, he's a brilliant, caring, supportive team-mate and a loyal friend to many. And a very good, decent human being. That's the person I know.
"It was courageous and brave of him to open up. I admire Owen for many reasons anyway, but even more for doing this."
Malins, meanwhile, said he feels media and fan scrutiny of Farrell is unfair saying: "I think it's shocking, to be honest.
"I was up in the stands when the teams were getting read out, and I heard that [booing]. It was a big surprise to me. I really don't get it.
"For what he has done for England Rugby - he is one of the greatest players to wear that shirt - and for some fans to treat him like that is ridiculous.
"You won't find many people with a mentally tougher approach than Owen, so for him to feel like this is the step he needs to take is worrying in a sense, but also very brave and good of him to do so."
Farrell's decision to step away from the Test arena comes after referee Wayne Barnes, who oversaw the World Cup final, announced his retirement with a reference to the online abuse he has faced.
Barnes' family have also been targeted and McCall believes the game should address the attitude towards some of its leading figures.
"Rugby probably needs to do something," McCall said.
"This is a wake-up call for all concerned because there’s no way that a referee should face what Wayne faced and there’s no way that a player - a person - like Owen should have to face what he faced, over a longer period of time."
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