'Bulked up' Owen Farrell shines but doesn't escape criticism for trademark hit
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall was happy with Owen Farrell’s performance in what was his comeback from injury in his side’s 27-23 victory over Bristol Bears.
Sarries and England captain Farrell was making his first appearance for four months and he kicked 12 points before needing to come off for a head injury assessment in the closing stages at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
McCall admitted the hosts were not at their best, with their third Gallagher Premiership win in a row only being secured after a last-minute Jack Bates try for Bristol was disallowed for a forward pass.
McCall said: “He [Farrell] was at the heart of it, he place-kicked very well, he ran the attack brilliantly and I thought he defended well during the game.
“I’m delighted with him and he’ll just get better from here. His best games will be ahead of him, but he was pretty good today.
“We’re obviously really thrilled to get four points and a win from today, but not thrilled with the performance.
“I thought it was an exciting game, but not the kind of exciting game we want it to be or part of, to be honest.
“We were poor defensively today and a lot of credit to Bristol for the problems they caused us, but I thought we did show a lot of resilience in the game to keep coming back and score two important tries either side of half-time.
“With the ball, we were pretty good but without the ball, we weren’t so good.”
Former England No.8 Lawrence Dallaglio said he believed Farrell would be drafted straight back into the England set-up.
“He’s probably worked exceptionally hard to come back,” said Dallaglio. “He looks like he’s really worked on his strength, not like that was ever an issue. His stock has risen enormously during the Six Nations as England desperately needed his leadership qualities and his overall experience.”
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) March 26, 2022
There was however criticism for Farrell after he appeared to get away with a shoulder shot that many felt warranted a yellow card.
“Owen Farrell looked sharp today, some lovely passing and brilliant kicking off the tee but his tackle technique continues to be appalling,” wrote journalist John Evely. “Probably should have been yellow carded today. In the modern game he is a risk to his side because of it.”
Owen Farrell looked sharp today, some lovely passing and brilliant kicking off the tee but his tackle technique continues to be appalling.
Probably should have been yellow carded today.
In the modern game he is a risk to his side because of it.
— John Evely (@JohnEvely_BPost) March 26, 2022
No card for Owen Farrell! Are you having a laugh?
If this happened in the URC, people would go mental about standards of refs (some would threaten to join the Premiership ?)
How Farrell has never seen red for these tackles is crazy pic.twitter.com/CLt3cheCfb
— Caolán (@CaolanSRugby00) March 26, 2022
Dallaglio also criticised Farrell for the tackle, which many pounced upon by many as a ‘classic Owen Farrell shoulder charge’.
“I love Owen Farrell to bits, but you have to wrap your right arm. That could easily have been a yellow card,” said Dallaglio. “He’s been out of the game for four months — you have to cut him a bit of slack. You can mistime things very easily. But is that the correct decision? The answer is ‘no, I don’t think it is’. I think they’ve got away with one there.”
What has Owen Farrell got to do to be carded for a no arm tackle?
— Rhodri Mcatee (@rodmac007) March 26, 2022
It just baffles me that Owen Farrell, who is known for having a poor tackle technique, is given more leeway, not less leeway, for no-wrap tackles than other players.
— Tim Williams (@TimAlunWilliams) March 26, 2022
Bristol hit the front through tries by Antoine Frisch, Piers O’Conor and Tiff Eden, but scores by Max Malins and Elliot Daly, plus two penalties from Farrell, levelled the match at 20-20 at half-time.
Malins’ second try then put Saracens ahead before Callum Sheedy pulled back three points for the Bears, who came so close to snatching victory.
Their director of rugby Pat Lam said: “It was a great game, a really enjoyable game.
“I had an inkling that it [Bates’ try] was forward, and it was, and I feel for Joycey (Joe Joyce) – he was distraught.
“He did an unbelievable job to get into that position anyway – for a second-rower after 80 minutes, what he did to get there and create the opportunity.
“Joe was obviously upset about it, but it would have been class; two Bristolian boys, him and Jack Bates, who I thought was outstanding.
“He justified his selection, with all the good options we have out there, and he did tremendously well.
“It would have been five points and a great way to finish the game, but I’m proud of the guys.
“We had a clear game plan on how we wanted to play this. We put a lot of work into it.”
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