Ex-England international Andy Goode believes Owen Farrell is not the same player he used to be following his Gallagher Premiership red card last September for high tackling Wasps’ Charlie Atkinson, an incident that reignited the already heated debate about the legality of the England skipper tackling style.
The way Farrell has used his shoulders when making contact has long been under scrutiny and there was uproar some years ago when he escaped sanction for a 2018 Twickenham collision with South Africa’s Andre Esterhuizen.
Things imploded for Farrell five months ago when he copped a five-game after he illegally battered into the teenage Atkinson during a league game at Allianz Park. That suspension ruled Farrell out of Saracens’ knockout stage Champions Cup campaign and the club’s remaining fixtures before their Premiership relegation for repeated salary cap breaches.
The 29-year-old’s match action since then has consisted of six outings for England and last Saturday’s disappointing effort in the Guinness Six Nations defeat to Scotland came after a 62-day break in between games dating back to the December 6 Nations Cup final versus France.
That layoff was put forward as an excuse as to why he was so ineffective playing at out-half. However, last Saturday was the fourth time in his six recent England caps that he had started in the No10 shirt as opposed to inside centre.
“We put 61 points on them at Twickenham a few years ago, we played ball in hand, heads up attack – where has all that gone in England’s performances?"
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 10, 2021
Rather than blame out-half rustiness, it has now been suggested that Farrell’s fear of getting his tackling wrong has diluted his physicality in the collision and had a major negative impact on his contribution in last weekend’s shock defeat, prompting calls for him to be dropped for the round two match versus Italy this Saturday,
Goode, the ex-England out-half, told the latest episode of The Rugby Pod: “Farrell, that was his worst game I have even seen him play for England. No leadership. No direction as a 10. Okay, he kicked his goals, but tackling, he soaked up and there is a big issue now for Farrell since he got that red card.
“You think how aggressive he used to be in tackling and smashing people when he lived on that danger zone around how he belted people. Then he got found out with what should have been a yellow card against South Africa two years ago, whatever it was, and he has not been flying into tackles anymore as hard as he used to.
“People say he is working on his technique – and he has come out and said it. But you don’t see any difference in his technique at all, you see a difference in how hard he throws his shoulder into contact because he knows he is living on that edge of ‘this is how I tackle. If I get one a couple of inches wrong I’m off again’.
“That’s why Cam Redpath and Scotland tested him, ‘we’re going to run at Farrell and we’re going to run at his inside shoulder, outside shoulder’ because when he is on form he wants to fly into those tackles and it might lead to a red card or whatever.”
England coach Eddie Jones vehemently backed Farrell during a media appearance on Tuesday, claiming: “He has been a highly consistent, highly successful player for us. Like a number of players on Saturday, he wasn’t at his best. I know there is a bandwagon, but he is an outstanding player and like any outstanding player they can have a game where they are not at their best. Is that a reason to drop the player? I wouldn’t think so.”
England are due to name on Thursday their matchday 23 to face the Azzurri this weekend. The suspension-free Kyle Sinckler and the fit-again Mako Vunipola were restored to the 28-strong squad at the start of the week in place of last Saturday’s tighthead replacement Harry Williams and the uncapped Tom West.
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