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England need Farrell to keep on being spiky


Mick Cleary

No wallflower ... Owen Farrell squares up to Yoann Maestri of France.

No wallflower ... Owen Farrell squares up to Yoann Maestri of France. Photo: Getty Images

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

9 comments so far

  • Typical English rubbish; anything excusable as long as they're winning. Farrell is a very good player, he may be a great player. Time will tell. But he needs to learn respect for his opponents. As the form number 10 in the UK at the moment, there is a very good chance we will see him here during the Lions Tour. If that happens, I hope the Wallaby back row will introduce him to the realities of Southern Hemisphere rugby. God forbid Quade Cooper, if he is selected, indulges in a little gamesmanship. Then we will see if the sycophantic British rugby press truly believes its own nonsense.

    Big Dog
    Date and time
    February 26, 2013, 6:57PM
    • Why not recall Duncan McRae from whichever rock he is hiding under..

      Tribal Terror
      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 6:32AM
    • Mr Farrell, please meet Messrs Pocock and Palu.

      The guy does deserve some reciprocal roughing up. I'd have thought the Aussies should niggle him so he goes overboard and gets red or yellow carded. He was very lucky not to on Saturday. The Aussies would love Farrell to be wearing the Lions 10 jersey. He's not even particularly good.

      All this carrying on he does durung a game just makes him look like a yappy little dog.

      Karma Police
      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 10:01AM
    • Apparently Duncan McRae is now spruiking for one of the 8,000 or so sports betting agencies active in Australia. Perhaps he could use his Lions game tactics on Tom Waterhouse?

      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 11:10AM
  • What a pathetic comment from Big Dog. People such as this make me feel ashamed to be Australian.

    Date and time
    February 26, 2013, 11:09PM
    • Your self esteem must be pretty low if a comment by a stranger makes you feel ashamed to be Australian. You give me an awful lot of power, Stevo2000...

      Big Dog
      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 8:38AM
  • Respect is learnt on the pitch and I dont think the Wallabiues back row are in any type of form to teach any lessons to anyone at the moment.Cooper not a good example as he has probably pi&^%ed off more Wallabies than any player from any other side. Thats not gamesmanship, thats dumb and shows a lack of respect to your own team.

    Date and time
    February 27, 2013, 2:40AM
    • What a load of crap. It's stupid play off the ball, just like dear ol' Quade.

      Oregeon, USA
      Date and time
      February 27, 2013, 3:17AM
      • I watched a fair bit of that England France game.

        Farrell has to be one of the biggest tossers I've ever seen play the game. I couldn't believe the garbage he went on with, it was just so pointless.

        And how did he avoid suspension for the elbow to the chin of the French half, off the ball? He should have got a month for that.

        Karma Police
        Date and time
        February 27, 2013, 9:58AM

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