#360debate: Should Owen Farrell be axed?

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Under pressure: Owen Farrell tries to escape the attentions of Victor Matfield at Twickenham on Saturday.

After a poor display against South Africa, questions have been raised about Owen Farrell's place in the England team ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

Our #360debate today is: Should Farrell be axed?

Martyn Thomas, Reporter, thinks YES

England’s disappointing autumn has been characterised by indecision and indifference behind the scrum. 

Owen Farrell has been ponderous and his decision-making poor, and while not the only player under performing, it is time to look at alternatives.

Fly-half is a pivotal position at the top level as it is the No10 who sets the pace and tempo of the game, and ultimately provides the territory that is so important.

On too many occasions against South Africa, Farrell simply chose the wrong option and put his side in danger.

Early on he eschewed a kick to run the ball out from under his posts. The Saracens man did the first bit well, but then inexplicably played Anthony Watson into trouble instead of clearing his lines.

In the second half he made a complete hash of a couple of cross-field kicks when he had numbers out wide, and in general the Red Rose looked more dangerous when their pack decided to take on playmaking responsibilities themselves.

That does not mean that Stuart Lancaster does not possess ability in his backline, but by persisting with Farrell he is not getting the most out of them. Game management is not a strong point for the Saracens man and he requires someone outside of him to help take the burden of decision making off him. 

Unfortunately, Kyle Eastmond, while an exciting player, does not possess the requisite kicking game to do that. One man who does is Billy Twelvetrees, and Lancaster may well decide to bring him back in but that would seem a regressive measure – diminishing the overall quality of the midfield, to mask the deficiencies of the golden boy.

Instead, England must be brave and give a chance to George Ford, who has forged a frightening relationship with Eastmond at club level and could hold the key to unlocking the side’s potential. Changes will be made for the Samoa test on Saturday, but Ford must be allowed to show what he can do against Australia a week later.

With time running out ahead of the World Cup, and with the likes of Danny Cipriani, Stephen Myler and Freddie Burns also available, Lancaster’s blind faith in Farrell is verging on the ridiculous.

Matthew Jones, Reporter, thinks NO

Owen Farrell did not have a great game against South Africa, but dropping him is not the answer.

There were plenty of other miscreants in white guilty of sinning against the Springboks, and far more senior, experienced internationals than the 23-year-old fly-half.

Farrell is a solid goal-kicker, a physical specimen, a natural leader and a strong character who relishes the big occasion.

Critics are clamouring for coach Stuart Lancaster to give in-form Bath back George Ford the nod against Samoa, but is the 21-year-old the answer?

And if Ford does play, it should not be at the expense of Farrell, but alongside him. Switch Farrell to inside centre, to provide England with a natural kicker, and put Ford at 10.

The pair were a devastating combination at age-group level, when they lost just two games in five years. Ford was the Premiership’s top points scorer in 2013/14 with 250.

Farrell was fifth but played seven games fewer and his 157 points in comparison still project him in a favourable light, giving him 11.2 average points a game, compared to Ford’s 11.9.

It was an injury-hit campaign for Farrell and it must be remembered he is coming back from a lay-off at the moment. He is rusty, but fitness and form will return.

What he won’t lose and what other players will fail to match is his intensity and spirit.

He scored nearly half of England’s points (17) when they pulled off one of the greatest victories of recent times less than two years ago, dismantling New Zealand 38-21.

When he was 19 he led Sarries to their first trophy since 1998 with a 17-point match-winning display in the 2011 Premiership final win over Leicester Tigers.

England have lost their last five games, but four of those defeats came against the world champions, the other against the Springboks.

The Red Rose have no other fly-half who can match Farrell’s drive.

Lancaster needs as many leaders as possible at the moment and Farrell fits that mould. He has proven he has the character to bounce back from this dip in form.

What is your opinion? Leave your comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #360debate.

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International rugby round-up: South Africa edge England, Wales beat Fiji

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Racing through: Jan Serfontein celebrates the opening try of the match.

South Africa edged England 31-28 in a nail-biting one-off Test match at Twickenham on Saturday.

The Springboks led 13-6 at half-time, Owen Farrell's two penalties cancelled out by an intercept try by centre Jan Serfontein, Pat Lambie kicking the conversion and two penalties.

Cobus Reinach added a second South African try shortly after the break, but England, with Victor Matfield in the sinbin, hit back with a brace of tries from prop David Wilson and replacement No 8 Ben Morgan, both converted by Farrell.

Schalk Burger handed South Africa back the lead, England hooker Dylan Hartley sin-binned for stamping.

Lambie and George Ford traded penalties before the Springbok fly-half hit a 77nd minute drop-goal, Brad Barritt grabbing a late consolation try for the home side.

Elsewhere, Wales beat Fiji 17-13 – also a one-off Test – at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

In a disappointinly error-ridden game, the home side scored three first-half tries through wingers George North and Alex Cuthbert, and a penalty try, the latter converted by Rhys Priestland.

Fiji, who saw prop Campese Ma'afu sent off in the 52nd minute after a second yellow card, replied with two Nemani Nadolo penalties, the giant centre grabbing a 78th intercept try he also converted.

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Lewis Moody: 'England can beat SA'

Lewis Moody 14/11/2014
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Lewis Moody believes England have what it takes to beat South Africa at Twickenham.

If we’re being realistic, England’s job this autumn has been made a lot harder by the number of injuries Stuart Lancaster has had to contend with.

That said, the squad is good enough to beat South Africa even with all the players that are absent and Stuart is right to ask for an improvement in performance.

Ireland have proven that the Springboks can be beaten, and England just have to go out there, have no fear of the result, and put in a performance in each position.

Chris Robshaw might not be the most popular captain England have ever had, but the consistency he brings to the side is vital.

The Harlequins flanker has not changed as a player since his career started and his team-mates know exactly what to expect from him.

He has never been the stand-out performer in terms of tries, but he’s a solid grafter, he puts in the work and he leads by example.

There has been a call for a specialist No7, in the mould of Steffon Armitage, but there is only one and that’s Steffon. All of the others are very much similar to Chris, and Stuart’s got no out-and-out tacklers or guys who are hard over the ball.

We don’t produce that type of player in England because of how we referee the game, and we are certainly behind in that we need that out-and-out No7.

Steffon and Neil Back are probably the only two that we’ve produced in the last 20 years.

It would certainly be nice to have someone that puts some real pressure on the breakdown and turns some ball over. That’s something we don’t see a great deal of with England.

And, I think Stuart knows that the only way to create the best competition in his squad is to have Steffon in it, to push Chris all the way, and also to add a different dynamic if he’s on the bench.

However, South Africa don’t necessarily have a ball-stealing seven yet they compete with the best teams ion the planet and have won two World Cups.

What we do produce is hard-running, hard grafting back-row players.

Hopefully they will get the right support from the stands as the abuse of the match officials last Saturday was completely unacceptable.

Rugby is intrinsically a brutal sport fought very aggressively on the pitch, and in its history fans have always appreciated and respected its core values.

I think respect needs to be paid to the officials and players. They don’t always get it right just as the players don’t always get it right but Nigel Owens for me is one of the best referees in the world.

The way he manages games and deals with players, makes rugby enjoyable to watch and to play. Having been refereed by him I particularly enjoy the way he referees.

The players go out there and give it everything. It would be nice if the crowd give the team their absolute support in the right manner – and create a fortress Twickenham.

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