Rugby Union


England need Farrell to keep on being spiky

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Owen Farrell is not Jonny Wilkinson. Nor should we want him to be. Farrell is not a saintly figure, a man inclined to turn the other cheek, to hit hard and walk away.

He is a spiky, niggly, forthright character, out to rile the opposition, to put them off their game by any means possible. He is a scrapper to Wilkinson's fighter, inclined to mix it as much as for his own ends as for anything achieved in putting off an opponent. Wilkinson's warrior spirit extended to dumping his man on the deck with a rib-cruncher.

Farrell has the same heavy-tackling ability, yet he is not content to leave them gasping for air on their backsides. He has got to ruffle their hair as he runs past.

It is not a distraction for him, an unnecessary add-on to his physical impact on a match. For Wilkinson it is enough to impose himself in the tackle. For Farrell it is not. Let us not neuter him. Let us not corral those tendencies. They are what make him what he is - a raw-edged competitor with a tough inner core and an on-field presence that already makes opponents ponder the value of coming down his channel.

To argue that he ought to be concentrating solely on his game and not on winding up the opposition, as he did several times at Twickenham on Saturday, is to miss the essence of the man. He felt he needed to roar into the face of Yoann Huget, the France full-back. He felt he needed to give Morgan Parra a dig as he ran past as payback for some previous entanglement. It stokes his inner fires. It puts him on edge, antennae tuned.

Did Farrell overstep the mark? A referee or a citing commissioner will decide that. That fine line is not a fixed point. Some officials let things go, others do not. On this occasion, for the little contretemps with Parra, Farrell is in the clear.


Only if he is sanctioned will Farrell react and rein back if he needs to, for there is one thing that can be said with certainty about him - he is in it to win it. If his actions cost his team yardage or points or a man in the bin, then Farrell is savvy enough to realise what would need to be done. He does not do any of these things for selfish gratification. He does it to give himself, and therefore his team, a better chance of victory.

You may groan at some of his antics. You may tut-tut about a supposed lack of grace and sportsmanship. Well, if you do, do not bother cheering when he flattens Mathieu Bastareaud. Do not throw your hat into the air as he bangs yet another penalty through the posts. For the Farrell who is performing these feats is the same Farrell who is being an occasional pain in the butt. You cannot admire his mental toughness in one breath then decry him in another for apparent petulance. They come from the same source. Farrell has been praised for a maturity beyond his years (21). He cannot be a wise old head as well as a childish pillock.

His game has always been based on competitiveness. Those who have known him since he really was a youngster testify to that hard-nosed temperament being present from an early age. He was way beyond his peers in that, never fazed on the field, never affected by pressure, never intimidated. That is what made him a prodigy - the ability to deliver under duress.

This is not the mark of a man prone to fits of pique, to someone losing his poise just because he is jostled or hit with a cheap shot. Farrell is in the mix, loud, ratty, energised, because that is where he wants to be. And, crucially, because that is the environment in which he is most potent and productive.

As for the notion that opponents might target him in an effort to exploit that temperament - well, let them. That is what Farrell wants. He has not yet allowed things to spill over. As for any skirmishes putting him off his stroke, take a look at those kicking stats and come back with a better argument. One moment a firebrand, the next a metronome.

Aggression is in the genes. His father, Andy, was a brute of a figure on the field. He is now the same as a coach, drawing people to him by his very presence in their midst, inspiring them with his steely outlook. Owen is chiselled from the same block. Yes, he may get a clip round the ear from the old man and be told to watch himself. More likely, he will be told to continue getting into people's faces.

Test rugby is not muscular ballet. It is about collision and confrontation as much as it is about feint and sidestep. Never a backward step.

The Farrells realise that. You do whatever it takes. So let us leave Owen Farrell alone. Value him for how he is and what he is. His worth is considerable.

The Telegraph, London