England must drop Farrell

Date published: November 16 2014

Short of confidence and form, England have to replace Owen Farrell with George Ford for the Tests against Samoa and Australia.

Short of confidence and form, England have to replace Owen Farrell with George Ford for the Tests against Samoa and Australia.

The Saracens fly-half has been integral for England in the Stuart Lancaster era, yet on Saturday looked utterly adrift.

In the last two weeks his reputation has taken a battering after failing to manoeuvre his team into a winning position against the world’s top two sides.

Solid place kicking can’t cover up a lack of creativity that has resulted with England losing by three points to New Zealand and South Africa within seven days.

Lancaster, to his credit, resisted the urge to remove Farrell after the flattering final score against the All Blacks to replace him with Ford.

Sticking with established players has been an admirable trait of Lancaster’s time in charge, showing loyalty and asking for a performance back.

But Farrell failed to deliver the authoritative, matchwinning return that England so desperately needed.

Once again England’s scrum was a stronghold and their lineout this week won 19 out of 20 throw-ins, yet Farrell’s kicking was scratchy and England never made the most of the bounty of ball they accumulated.

Combined with running Anthony Watson into some waiting Springbok tacklers with a blind burst out of his 22, Farrell showed a sore lack of composure – symbolic of England as a whole.

Farrell is not the sole cause of England’s lack of execution or creativity in attack, but he remained a major part of it in a contest where England dominated both possession and territory.

Up until England’s forwards and a few backs battered their way over for tries from successive rolling mauls, the spotlight was glaring down on him.

Crucially he also doesn’t look 100 percent fit, which is unsurprising given that when England named their squad in October, Farrell had only played four minutes of rugby in a month.

There are also other reasons besides his performances in the last two weeks to leave Farrell out of the side.

England know what they get from Farrell but need to discover whether Ford can back up what have been a string of good showings for Bath by handing him a chance to do it in an international setting.

Ford is yet to start a Test for England after four appearances from the bench in 2014, but with the New Zealand and South Africa games lost – the big games for England to make a statement – Lancaster can now discover what Ford has to offer.

Stephen Myler, perhaps destined to always be an England squad member yet never in the matchday squad, is also in contention but Ford, a former IRB Junior Player of the Year, truly deserves a chance to show what he can do.

The 21-year-old looked confident in his all-too-brief 16 minutes on the pitch late on, with England chasing the game following Schalk Burger’s try and Pat Lambie’s conversion.

With 160 minutes to work with over the next two games, Ford can make a case to start for England in the Six Nations while Farrell recovers his confidence by either being sent back to Saracens or with bursts off the bench.

Farrell now has close to 30 caps, but the doubts are creeping in. Is he truly a Test fly-half? Naas Botha suggests otherwise.

During Supersport‘s half-time analysis, Botha’s withering assessment of Farrell concluded that “he doesn’t have a rugby brain, he has a Rugby League brain”, hinting at a desire from Farrell to seek out the next contact or phase rather than the bigger picture.

Farrell has power, but at Saracens it’s Charlie Hodgson who possesses the greater vision of how to run a game. Articles in the English press earlier this year centred on what an in-form Hodgson could teach Farrell in that regard. Based on the last week, England need that education to hurry up.

Farrell’s time will come again, he remains England’s number one option for now, but his deficiencies, both short-term and long, must be addressed.

Farrell is a not a bad player, but he is playing like one. It’s time for Ford to seize his chance.

by Ben Coles