A bit of Monday Morning Quarterbacking here. Saturday’s match against Wales confirmed, if confirmation was required – that the liability known as Owen Farrell is one that England’s RWC team does not need. Here’s the Graun’s Robert Kitson:
While the braced 63rd-minute shoulder to the head of Taine Basham was not the absolute worst of its type, that defence misses the point. In addition to the obvious player-welfare implications, it was reckless and unnecessary. Nor was this some helplessly overeager debutant flying in. It was England’s captain, who should have known better with his side reduced to 13 men, playing in his 107th Test. It should also have cost his side any chance of victory.
To me (and many others) this has been obvious for many years. At the 2015 [sic] RWC I wrote -
I have been boring my rugby drinking buds for three years predicting that, at a crucial moment in the RWC, England will be down to 14 with Farrell cooling his heels in the bin.
And so it transpired, even though the 2015 details were slightly different: in the vital group match vs Wales, with England ahead, well positioned to finish the game off, and a critical penalty already awarded, in steams Farrell with an obviously premeditated late tackle right under the ref's nose, and the penalty is reversed. As a direct result, Wales go on to win – and England go out ignominiously in the group stage. On home soil. Thanks, Owen, and yes, we already knew you're a hard bastard.
Eight years on, and no lessons have been learned, either by the perennially dull-witted, thuggish player himself nor successive managers. And so, two days ago he earned the red card that will see him out for at least the next two matches, and maybe more.
Why are Farrell’s services retained? Because, we are told, he is “England’s talismanic leader”. Let’s think that through. In Martin Johnson, the all-conquering England RWC 2003 team had a truly talismanic leader – no greater captain of any team at any time, I’d say – and Johnson, too, was no stranger to the early trip to the dugout at a particular point in his career. The dog had been given a (fairly deserved) bad name and, disproportionately, the refs were ever-ready with the whistle. But Johnson and everyone else knew this couldn’t go on. By 2003 he had long since fixed it, and the problem period was over.
Johnson also fulfilled impeccably his role at lock. So: superb player; outstanding leader; bish-bosh tendencies under control: perfect captain. By contrast … the petulant Farrell shouldn’t even be in the team as a player – his distribution skills are pedestrian and his kicking unremarkable – and when after all these years and warnings and penalties and red cards he still fails so comprehensively on the control criterion, he has only one box ticked.
At this level, that ain’t enough. Borthwick seemed to be mulling the axe for Farrell when he first took over in such awkward, unwanted circumstances. Well, here’s the perfect opportunity to wield it now. Get on with it, man, oh, and recall Henry Slade forthwith.
UPDATE: Hmmm. My argument stands