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Ex-England teammate believes the Ford-Farrell axis is dead in the water

By Ian Cameron
Owen Farrell of England looks on prior to the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between England and Argentina at Stade Velodrome on September 09, 2023 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Former England flanker turned pundit James Haskell believes the George Ford-Owen Farrell axis is officially over and won’t be rolled out by head coach Steve Borthwick at this Rugby World Cup.


A 14-man England side was steered by a gutsy 27-1o victory over Argentina by Ford in the Stade Velodrome in Marseille on the opening weekend, with the Sale Sharks playmaker claiming a man of the match award following a virtuoso performance at ten.

It’s reshaped how many view the England flyhalf pecking, not least Haskell who has played alongside both Ford and Farrell down through the years. The former Wasps flanker believes that Ford and Farrell playing at 10 and 12 together is a failed experiment and is now a thing of the past.

“No, I don’t see Ford and Farrell starting together. We have seen that the 10 Ford, 12 Farrell pairing doesn’t work and I don’t think it should be tested again at this World Cup. For me, Ford is the man to lead England through the tournament,” says Haskell, who won 77 England caps.

“As we’ve seen, George Ford and Marcus Smith are both capable replacements. In fact, Owen’s recent performances for England haven’t been at his best, even though he has been in excellent form for Saracens. This break may allow others to step up and show their worth in his absence and George Ford has certainly done that so far and should be the man to lead England through the tournament.

George Ford
George Ford has often been described as an ‘on-field coach’ and he used all his experience to see England home (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

“Both Owen and Billy [Vunipola] are exceptional players, who I’ve had the pleasure of playing with. Owen, in particular, is a talisman for the team and has a significant impact, both emotionally and in terms of driving standards. While he won’t be on the field in those opening matches, he will continue to provide motivation and support during training.”


Haskell doesn’t feel that Harlequins playmaker Marcus Smith, now third choice at 10, has yet to hit his straps for England and sees Smith’s immediate future as an impact player off the bench.

“I have a lot of admiration for Marcus Smith, he’s a huge talent. I’m not entirely sure if he’s hit his stride yet when representing England. I think there’s more to come from him.


“Marcus has the ability to be a game-changer. He’s a fierce competitor and has the capacity to unlock opposing teams. However, his effectiveness also depends on how well the rest of the team supports him and how he can best contribute to the team’s performance.

“I’m not sure he is the man to start at the moment, but he deserves his place in the team due to his unique skill set. He might be best suited for a finishing role, especially when the opposition is tired and there’s open space on the field. In those situations, he has the ability to make a significant impact.”


Haskell is also looking forward to seeing what impact Racing 92 winger Henry Arundell can have at this Rugby World Cup, as well as a number of other Engalnd rookies who are eager to make their mark.

“He’s [Arundell] a powerful and physically fit player, possessing both strength and size. When you put the ball in his hands, he has the potential to make a real. I hope he gets the chance to showcase his skills and contribute to the team’s success.

“I’m eager to see how Alex Mitchell performs, as he’s a teammate from Northampton. He’s someone who can cause defences issues with his speed and skills.

“Lastly, Ben Earl, who has been a consistent performer for England, is someone I hope gets the opportunity to shine in the World Cup. He’s been a standout player for Saracens for quite some time, and I believe he has the potential to make a significant impact at the international level.”


When asked about Borthwick’s tenure as head coach, Haskell admits to concerns around his lack of charisma and ability to deal with the intense criticism levelled at him and his coaching ticket.

“Steve Borthwick is a seasoned professional and an outstanding coach. He’s known for keeping a level head and not getting overly rattled by pressures. When his appointment was initially announced, I praised his qualities, but I was disappointed when Eddie Jones was let go, as I felt it was done wrongly. However, I considered Steve Borthwick the next best replacement, given his experience working under Jones.

“While Steve is incredibly intelligent and a genuinely good person, he’s not the most charismatic figure when facing the media. My concern lies in the fact that when things don’t go well, he might not be the most vocal or inspiring presence. It will be crucial for the players to step up and take more responsibility.

Steve Borthwick
Steve Borthwick, after a few testing months, could afford a smile after beating Argentina (Photo Michael Steele/ Getty Images)

“Ultimately, Steve should focus on what he does best, which is coaching. He’s won the Premiership with Leicester. He’s worked with both Japan and England and understands what it takes to succeed. With a talented coaching staff supporting him, he should take a deep breath, tune out the media noise (which I believe he’ll do), and concentrate on preparing the team to the best of his ability for the challenges ahead.

“Within a sporting environment, it’s crucial to maintain a focused mindset. It’s too easy to get distracted, especially in the age of social media. Googling your own name or dwelling on what people think of you isn’t productive at all.

“Instead, the team should be focusing on hunkering down and concentrating on what they can control. Putting in the effort, working smartly, taking care of their physical and mental well-being, and ensuring they remain entertained and mentally prepared to perform at their best.

“Having recently interviewed them at Heathrow, I could sense their positivity, readiness, and excitement. They’re well aware that recent performances haven’t met the mark, and they would have had some honest discussions about where things have gone wrong and who needs to take responsibility. We saw with their performance against Argentina that the players believe they can succeed and they are fully prepared and motivated.

“Considering their draw, I think it’s quite reasonable to expect them to reach at least the quarter-finals. Advancing to the semi-finals is certainly a possibility, although I can’t see them beating top-tier teams like France, South Africa, and the All Blacks, at the moment.

2However, there are individuals in the team who know how to win. We have Heineken Cup and Premiership winners, as well as experience in World Cup finals. They have the knowledge and lessons from these past achievements. The key now is ensuring this translates on the pitch.”

James Haskell was speaking to Pringles as part of a partnership with Movember. The partnership will see Pringles launch a ‘Talk-Thru’ cinema experience in London and Liverpool with James Haskell and Mike Tindall, to encourage men to meet up and open up more regularly. You can find more about the upcoming events here: and



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