Sunday 26 May 2019

England's reliance on Farrell reaches new level

England 35 Japan 15

Danny Care of England touches down for the first try. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Danny Care of England touches down for the first try. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Gerard Meagher

Eddie Jones recently explained that Owen Farrell is not the kind of player to be wrapped in cotton wool. He may want to think again. If this victory, ultimately comprehensive but anything but comfortable, told us anything it is that England's reliance on Farrell remains almost total; going into next year's World Cup without him is unthinkable.

It would be harsh on the eye-catching performances of Kyle Sinckler and Sam Underhill from the bench, perhaps on the endeavour of Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes, too, to say that Farrell swung the match in England's favour single-handedly, but the biggest factor was without doubt his introduction and the bloody-mindedness he brought. He came on at half-time - it is easy to imagine Jones had little say in the matter - and immediately gave England purpose.

Jack Nowell of England is tackled by Kenki Fukuoka. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Jack Nowell of England is tackled by Kenki Fukuoka. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

He was spiky and was given a talking-to by the referee, Paul Williams, for too much complaining but he gave a rudderless team direction and steered the game away from Japan.

"He's a very influential player for us," said Jones. "He's a forceful character and personality. We need to build more leadership around him."

He is not wrong because, while this was supposed to be a stress test of England's largely second-string side, there were times in the first half they almost snapped in two. For the second week running there was a team at Twickenham relieved to be going in at half-time 15-10 down and while you must credit England for scoring 25 unanswered points in the second half, you would not give them much more than pass marks.

Here was an opportunity for some fringe players to force their way into Jones's thinking for the World Cup squad but, if anything, more played their way out of contention. Mark Wilson grew into the game but three penalties against him inside the first 10 minutes were perhaps a reminder that he is still a relative novice at this level. Throughout the first half it became acutely apparent England are still unable to adapt on the hoof, to think on their feet.

Joe Cokanasiga of England celebrates after scoring his team's third try. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
Joe Cokanasiga of England celebrates after scoring his team's third try. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

The England management had repeated over and again how often Japan kick but their commitment to keeping the ball in hand was commendable. Twice from restarts, Japan worked the ball from right to left, all the way to Kenki Fukuoka and made considerable ground.

Japan's backs have delightful handling skills but the game-plan was simple: keep the ball moving. Just as was the case against Scotland during the Six Nations last season, England could not cope. Indeed, such an inability to slow down Japanese ball only called into question further the decision to put Sam Underhill on the bench.

At this stage, 10 months out from the World Cup, it is hard to see how Underhill or Tom Curry will not be England's starting No 7. Between them they have nine starts so surely this was an opportunity missed to add to that and Underhill made a considerable difference after his introduction before 50 minutes.

The sluggishness that befell England is hardly surprising. It was the Lord Mayor's show last weekend and England began as such, unable to reach the intensity with which they started against the All Blacks. Against South Africa they also began slowly but seemed galvanised by a yellow card, coming through that 10-minute period 3-0 to the good. Against Japan, however, with the remarkable Michael Leitch to the fore, England shipped two tries while Jamie George was in the sin bin.

Dylan Hartley could be heard imploring his side to be disciplined when he came on, but the 7-1 penalty count at half time-time suggested his team-mates were not listening. Statistics do not always tell the whole story but Japan had 69pc territory in the first half and really should have been ahead by more.

It had all started so well for England with Danny Care's try and the giant wing Joe Cokanasiga involved in the build-up on his debut. The winger's patient performance can be chalked up as a positive - he did not get a huge amount of ball but a few bulldozing runs left an imprint on a few tacklers and he was rewarded with a try late on.

The second half was an emphatic response. "We played like England," was Jones's pithy assessment, revealing that he kept his half-time team-talk simple: "We needed more effort, we needed to get stuck in."

In the end, the power at England's disposal proved pivotal, guided by Farrell, but the biggest lesson Jones will have learned from this match is that his side are still struggling to adapt on the pitch. More direction is needed because Farrell cannot do it all alone.

Observer

Sunday Indo Sport

The Left Wing: Leinster's succession plan, Munster's missing piece and the art of contract negotiations

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport