>Adam Hathaway argues Owen Farrell is the greatest English player since Martin Johnson, asks who wouldn’t want him on their side, and keeps it in the family after Ireland’s win over the All Blacks.
Martin Johnson used to say that the longer you were out of the game the better player you became but he was just being modest. Jonno was bang up there with the best of them.
The World Cup-winning captain told RugbySpy this a couple of years after he had retired and accused us of looking through rose-tinted spectacles at his deeds. He claimed we thought he was a better player than he really was because he hadn’t pulled his boots of for a while.
He might have had a point though and it was rammed home on Saturday afternoon at Twickenham where England beat Japan 35-15.
Talk about absence making the heart grow fonder.
Owen Farrell started on the bench for England’s match-up against Japan at Twickenham and over the first 40 minutes it was obvious how much they miss him when he is not about. He is the most influential England player since the great Johnson himself.
Clive Woodward used to claim that Johnson, Jonny Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Jason Robinson and the rest were, if they were track and field exponents, Olympic gold medal class.
Farrell is in the same league and England are not the same team without him and it is just time for them to suck it up and admit it, whatever the man himself says.
RugbySpy had a light-hearted disagreement about this with one highly distinguished former England captain at a dinner a few years back, you know who you are, but this weekend seals the deal.
England were trailing 15-10 at half-time and Japanese journalists around us were whispering about a repeat of the ‘Miracle in Brighton’ when the Brave Blossoms stunned South Africa in the 2015 World Cup. That was their day of days but they had a half to match it until Farrell came on and took care of business.
Eddie Jones had made 11 changes to his team because he wanted to look at some different combinations. Jack Nowell and Alex Lozowski at centre, Danny Care and George Ford at half-back and new look front and second rows.
Over the years Jones has played midfields of Ford, Farrell and Jonathan Joseph, Farrell, Ben Te’o and Henry Slade, Ford, Farrell and Slade, Ford, Farrell and Elliot Daly, Farrell, Luther Burrell and Joseph and all the rest of them. He has not been in full Claudio Ranieri ‘Tinker Man’ mode but has had a look at a few combinations.
And he wanted to have a look at another few on Saturday.
But it is handy if you win a game against a Tier Two nation whilst you are at it and England were starting down the barrel. In the week when the RFU announced their chief executive, Steve Brown, was stepping down the last thing Twickers needed was a defeat to Japan.
Enter Farrell.
You wouldn’t want to be the bloke who has to tell Farrell he is not starting at the weekend and the 27-year-old came out all guns blazing when he came off the bench and England were transformed.
Also, you wouldn’t want to play against him and you wouldn’t want to be an underperforming team mate playing with him. On the Reflink all we could hear was Farrell directing the team about, bossy, ballsy but this is Test rugby we are talking about. And he backs it up.
All of sudden England had more physicality to their game, they had Japan on the back foot, their kicking game went up about ten notches and Farrell was at the heart of it.
When England finally started scoring tries, after Danny Care’s early one, Farrell let Ford take the conversions.
He had more important things to attend – like getting in the ear of his side in a huddle just over the halfway line to tell them to keep the intensity up. He really does give a monkey’s.
England won the second half 25-0 and Farrell, playing at inside centre, rounded it off with a massive not-over-my-dead body hit. If he was trying to make a point about the half-witted, underpowered performance he had witnessed from 40 minutes on the bench he made it, in no uncertain terms.
Ok, Farrell got on the wick of referee Paul Williams, for complaining about a couple of decisions, but he sure as hell was not going to be part of the first English side to lose to a Tier Two nation. Not on his 40-minute watch.
Anyone who saw his fist pump at the end of the South Africa game knows how much playing Tests for England means to Farrell and, more importantly, how much winning them means. That explains Farrell’s motivation to get England back on track when he came on after the break.
Jones told us afterwards that he had not needed to resort to the Alex Ferguson style hairdryer treatment of his players at the interval. Why would you when you have got Farrell on your team to do it on the pitch?
“We needed to change the impetus of the game a little bit,” he said. “Owen is obviously a forceful character and he came on and did a good job for us. He’s a very influential player for us. We need to build more leadership around him. If I was us with Owen Farrell off the field, I’d be a bit worried. If I was Ireland with Johnny Sexton off the field, I’d be a bit worried. Do you want me to keep going? He’s an influential player. Of course he’s important to us. It was a good lesson. You don’t learn those things until you have the lesson.”
Forceful? Just as his father’s fingerprints were all over Ireland’s win over the All Blacks on Saturday night in Dublin, and more of that later, Farrell Jnr’s paw prints were all over England’s second half performance.
Gnarly, niggly, hard as nails, horrible to play against, tactically astute, a whiner, a moaner and utterly brilliant….what is not to like?
Jones is more than happy to have Farrell on board as were the majority of the Twickenham crowd after their side had dodged a bullet.
He is England’s big dog for sure.
And he is the same animal at Saracens as Mark McCall, the normally understated director of rugby at the club told his this season after Farrell had just derailed the Danny Cipriani bandwagon in a Premiership win over Gloucester.
“Owen was incredibly influential. It wasn’t just his skill set, it was the physical tone he set. Physically he was incredible,
“If you listen to the ref mic, vocally he was off the charts. He’s just an incredible player who adds in every way.
“Not just in his kicking and passing, but emotionally and physically as well. He threw himself into contact.”
With club or country, Farrell is the main man and the whole of England will be praying he gets to the World Cup unscathed. Forget Beckham’s metatarsal or, for the teenagers, Denis Compton’s knee, – England’s whole campaign could hinge on the 27-year-old from a rugby league background.
Farrell might nominally be England’s co-captain but he is the leader. He has got a big gob but a bigger spirit and without him they would have been sunk on Saturday.
Talking of Farrells…………..there was no doubt about the story of the week and it has nothing to do with Brexit, Theresa May, votes of no confidence or the Iceland advert that got banned and was then seen by a billion pairs of eyes on social media.
Andy Farrell, yep father of you-know-who, is currently the defence coach of Ireland and had more than a hand in their win over the All Blacks at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night.
For sure, Joe Schmidt is the mastermind of the Irish operation that toppled the world champions and he has got more than a few decent players at his disposal.
Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney, Jacob Stockdale, Tadhg Furlong and Peter O’Mahony were in their pomp in Dublin and there are not many teams who would not fancy a couple of them in their starting XVs.
RugbySpy is old enough to remember covering Andy Farrell when he was rugby league’s equivalent of Martin Johnson as Wigan destroyed everyone.
They even destroyed their union counterparts at the Middlesex Sevens in 1996 when the Twickenham blazers were spluttering and regretting the fact that the league interlopers were there.
Farrell Snr has now coached defence in four wins over the All Blacks. In 2012 with England, in 2016 and this weekend with Ireland and in 2017 with the British & Irish Lions.
In Dublin on Saturday night Ireland did not concede a try. The All Blacks run in about four tries a game and who were the last team to deny the Kiwis a touch down?
Yep, it was the Lions in Wellington last year on the way to a 24-21.
The defence coach was a bloke called Andrew David Farrell. When he played league he was the big dog and he has given the Irish defence some dog. Their line speed to shut down the New Zealanders was straight out of his Lions’ playbook when Owen was on the pitch.
Like father, like son.