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Home » Golf » Whenever Owen Farrell has a bad day, so do England

Whenever Owen Farrell has a bad day, so do England

As England tried to make some sense of what happened to them on Saturday evening, Owen Farrell found himself in unfamiliar territory — as a scapegoat for a logic-defying collapse.

Twickenham has never seen anything like it. The home side led 31-0 after half an hour. With five minutes to go they trailed 31-38, having contrived to concede six tries without reply. To say the wheels had come off doesn’t even begin to cover it.

George Ford’s overtime try and conversion snatched a draw and brought the house down, by which time Farrell was a disconsolate spectator. 

Owen Farrell found himself in unfamiliar territory as a scapegoat for a logic-defying collapse

Owen Farrell found himself in unfamiliar territory as a scapegoat for a logic-defying collapse

Owen Farrell found himself in unfamiliar territory as a scapegoat for a logic-defying collapse

Scotland hooker Stuart McInally charges down Farrell's kick before running through to score

Scotland hooker Stuart McInally charges down Farrell's kick before running through to score

Scotland hooker Stuart McInally charges down Farrell’s kick before running through to score

In the 70th minute, with the scores tied and a pulsating occasion in the balance, the England captain was taken off. It was a rare and remarkable sight. The conductor doesn’t tend to depart before the deed is done. 

Afterwards, Farrell appeared stunned and crestfallen. Often in such circumstances he exudes an air of simmering defiance. Not this time. T

his is a man who has taken up long-term residence on a high sporting pedestal, but he was forced to accept a hefty dose of blame for the way England’s loss of composure and direction contributed to a miracle comeback that saw Gregor Townsend’s team retain the Calcutta Cup.

‘Owen lost a bit of his edge,’ Eddie Jones told the BBC. ‘He was a little bit off his best. We needed someone to change the momentum of the game. I thought Sladey and Manu both still had enough in them to stay on, so it then became a decision on whether to replace Owen and we thought it was the best decision at that stage.

George Ford’s overtime try and conversion snatched a draw and brought the house down

George Ford’s overtime try and conversion snatched a draw and brought the house down

George Ford’s overtime try and conversion snatched a draw and brought the house down

‘He’s the hardest taskmaster in the world and he’ll be disappointed with his game. He’s a young captain and he’s developing really nicely. Like any young captain, it takes time. You don’t put a C next to someone’s name and they learn every lesson on how to manage a game.’

If, as seems increasingly likely, Farrell, 27, is to be England’s captain for the World Cup, his status as a work-in-progress leader is far from ideal. The development phase has to accelerate. At least the fly-half showed a commendable willingness to accept responsibility, while team-mates formed a long queue to exonerate him.

‘We probably gifted them the momentum swing — me more than anyone,’ said the Saracen. ‘When they did come back, it probably shocked us that bit too much. We talked about staying calm and sticking to the process and it didn’t quite work out that way.’

There is an uncomfortable sense that England’s fortunes have become overly reliant on one man. Now that Farrell is serving as skipper, sole primary playmaker, goal-kicker, defensive tone-setter and all-round, high-intensity action man, the prospects for player and team are utterly intertwined.

When Farrell has a bad day, England have a bad day, like in the second half against Scotland

When Farrell has a bad day, England have a bad day, like in the second half against Scotland

When Farrell has a bad day, England have a bad day, like in the second half against Scotland

When Farrell has a bad day, England have a bad day. That happened in the second half against Wales and Wales won. That happened in the second half on Saturday and Scotland turned the tables.

On playing form, Dylan Hartley wouldn’t reclaim a place in this dynamic England team, but as a captain, he had a powerful influence. Farrell was second-in-command and the arrangement worked.

Similarly, when he and Ford formed their 10-12 alliance, problem-solving on the field was a shared task between two shrewd playmakers. Now that duty is all Farrell’s.

Then there is the disciplinary factor. When the England stand-off crashed into Darcy Graham, replays suggested Farrell made contact around the shoulder and neck, perhaps even of the head, of his opponent. As was the case twice in the autumn Test campaign, he was lucky to receive only a penalty, not a card.

Townsend adopted a diplomatic stance, saying: ‘All I heard was the referee mic and he said, “I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt”. It was obviously the right thing for the TMO to come in and tell him to have a look at it.’

The England captain was penalised after he crashed into Darcy Graham in the Calcutta Cup

The England captain was penalised after he crashed into Darcy Graham in the Calcutta Cup

The England captain was penalised after he crashed into Darcy Graham in the Calcutta Cup

Opposite Farrell, Finn Russell once again demonstrated that there is a streak of liberated genius in him. After a half-time row with his head coach about the Scottish gameplan, he ripped England’s defence to shreds with his daring distribution, his vision and an interception try when he latched on to a pass Farrell had sent towards George Kruis.

Sam Johnson’s outstanding, long-range try under the posts five minutes from the end left Scotland on the brink of their first Calcutta Cup victory at Twickenham since 1983, and the centre delivered a telling verdict on England. ‘We noticed that they were getting tired, especially around the rucks, and we exploited that area really well,’ he said. ‘We got our tails up and noticed they sort of panicked.’

England No 8 Billy Vunipola offered his own blunt summary of a campaign which shimmered with attacking class, but ended up being more style than substance, saying: ‘What most teams probably think now is that we can do all the fancy stuff, but when it comes down to it and the real questions are asked, can we stay in the fight? That hurts more than anything.’

Eddie Jones tried to see an upside, saying that England 'sit fairly well' after the Six Nations

Eddie Jones tried to see an upside, saying that England 'sit fairly well' after the Six Nations

Eddie Jones tried to see an upside, saying that England ‘sit fairly well’ after the Six Nations

Jones sought an upside, adding: ‘If you look at the Six Nations in its entirety, tries for and against, we sit fairly well. We can play with power and precision, we can score a number of different ways and apart from the second half of this game, our defence has been quite imposing. And our set-piece and breakdown is pretty sound so that gives you a pretty good set of weapons to take into the World Cup.’

There is no argument with any of that. England have been potent. They have played with physicality and flair. They have a strengthening platform at the scrum and lineout, real breakdown prowess, a reinvigorated back row and all manner of firepower out wide. The emphatic restoration of Elliot Daly’s confidence is a sign of effective coaching.

England are a very good team and can be World Cup contenders. But at some point in Japan, they are going to find themselves backed into a corner.

If they can’t find a way to cope under pressure and also to manage the over-reliance on Farrell — who is human after all — they will fall short of their target.

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