Nick Evans' verdict on the Marcus Smith/Owen Farrell England axis
New England attack coach Nick Evans believes the misfiring Marcus Smith/Owen Farrell creative axis can be ignited by providing the clarity that was missing under the previous regime. The New Zealander, an influential figure in Harlequins’ all-action charge to the 2021 Gallagher Premiership title, will oversee the attack for the upcoming Guinness Six Nations as part of Steve Borthwick’s freshly assembled management team.
Under Eddie Jones, a confused England had become increasingly impotent with the failure of Smith and Farrell to gel at the heart of a malaise that contributed to the Australian’s sacking last month. Farrell has been superb as Saracens’ fly-half so far this season while Smith, who fills the same position for Quins, will make his first appearance since the autumn against Racing 92 on Sunday having recovered from an ankle injury.
It remains to be seen whether Borthwick persists with the duo at ten and twelve for England but, if he does, Evans will remain mindful of the need to avoid death by detail. “There is no reason why they can’t play together. But you have to be very clear about what you are trying to achieve, how you are doing this, what the detail looks like,” he said.
“Once everyone is clear on that then you can go through with it. Some of the feedback was that maybe that wasn’t there, so maybe there was a bit of a crossover. It’s just about making sure that you are very clear on roles and responsibilities.”
Addressing the muddled England attack, Evans added: “Sometimes the old death by detail can be a thing. The overcomplicating of things. As coaches, we don’t get much time with the players.
“We have got a week with them and then we are playing Scotland in the first game, so the information needs to be really clear and direct. The players need to go on to the field and have a really clear understanding of, ‘Right, in these areas of the field I know exactly how we want to play’.”
Harlequins lit up the Premiership in the 2020/21 season by cutting defences to ribbons and while they lost out to Saracens in the semi-finals last June, they remain the league’s most exciting side. Evans, however, wants to keep expectations in check amongst those hoping his temporary promotion by England will result in similar pyrotechnics with a side that lost more Tests than they won last year.
“I imagine there are a lot of people maybe thinking naively that the Harlequins structure will be thrown into England. I know that won’t work,” he said. “It’s about having real alignment with the coaches around the style that we want to play and the mindset in how we want to play in all areas.
“There is just not enough time to change everything and I don’t think everything needs changing. My focus is around bringing energy and clarity over when we have ball in hand.”
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