Former England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson believes “ruthless” Owen Farrell has the “leadership quality” that England need in World Cup year.
Second-half performances against Wales and Scotland, in which half-time leads were surrendered in both games, cost England the Six Nations title this year.
Head coach Eddie Jones spoke about the mental fragility of his side after they shipped 38 unanswered points to Scotland last month and the common denominator to the two halves that cost England dearly was that captain Farrell played poorly in both.
Jones’ decision to take off Farrell with 10 minutes to go against Scotland felt significant in a World Cup year.
But Wilkinson, who famously kicked the extra-time drop goal to win England the World Cup in 2003, supports the current England fly-half.
“He has a leadership quality, he has a real conviction about how he sees the game, he has openness outside of the game to learn but when he’s on the field he’s pretty ruthless,” said Wilkinson, speaking at an event where he and former France scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili were taking part in snow rugby in La Plagne.
“That’s kind of what guys look for – a guy that listens – but, when it comes to decision-making time, he makes the decision and there’s no grey about it, ‘this is what we’re doing, this is how we’re going to do it’.”
England captain Owen Farrell (left) in action during the Six Nations defeat away to Wales (David Davies/PA Images).England’s shortcomings against Wales in the second half in Cardiff, where they squandered a 10-3 lead to lose 21-13, opened the door for Warren Gatland’s team to win the Six Nations and complete the Grand Slam.
Wilkinson sees parallels between the current Wales side and his World Cup-winning England of 2003. But with the World Cup in Japan just five months away, he insists Wales cannot afford to think the hard work is done.
“You look at this Wales team and our England team in 2003 and you know they’ve won how many games on the trot now and they’ve won a grand slam in World Cup year, which means they’ve gone unbeaten for what has to be a year and now they’re heading in to the World Cup. You’re kind of like there is a parallel,” he said.
“For me it’s important that they did it but it’s only as important as they make it. The problem is that you feel like you’ve somehow deep down, you’ve somehow done a lot of the work already – none of the work’s been done.
“If you carry on willing to do the work then what’s happened before matters, if you stop and rest on what’s happened then what’s happened suddenly falls away very, very quickly.”
Ireland had high hopes heading into the Six Nations but defeats to England and Wales saw them finish third. However, Wilkinson has warned against writing off the Irish at the World Cup.
“Ireland are dangerous as ever and we’ve seen that. One season or one group of games doesn’t change anything,” said Wilkinson, who trained a couple of times with England at Jones’ request during the Six Nations as well as working as a kicking consultant for them.
“What it does do is put Ireland back in that bracket of backs against the wall – everyone’s doubting you a little bit now and that’s the worst Irish team you ever want to play against.
“What they need to do is find a way to make sure it comes out at the right moments. They’re certainly not off the charts that’s for sure.”
Rugby Australia and New South Wales are to terminate Israel Folau’s contract over discriminatory social media posts, the union has announced in a statement.
The Wallabies star was warned last year, but avoided any disciplinary action, for making comments on his social media channels.
The statement read: “As a code we have made it clear to Israel formally and repeatedly that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action. In the absence of compelling mitigating factors, it is our intention to terminate his contract.
“Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Rugby Union have made repeated attempts to contact Israel both directly and via his representatives since 6.30pm on Wednesday, and at this point he has failed to communicate directly with either organisation.
“Whilst Israel is entitled to his religious beliefs, the way in which he has expressed these beliefs is inconsistent with the values of the sport. We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the game with his recent social media posts.
“Israel has failed to understand that the expectation of him as a Rugby Australia and NSW Waratahs employee is that he cannot share material on social media that condemns, vilifies or discriminates against people on the basis of their sexuality.
“Rugby is a sport that continuously works to unite people. We want everyone to feel safe and welcome in our game and no vilification based on race, gender, religion or sexuality is acceptable and no language that isolates, divides or insults people based on any of those factors can be tolerated.”
The 30-year-old has won 73 caps and would have been a key part of Australia head coach Michael Cheika’s World Cup plans this year. Last weekend, he broke the Super Rugby try-scoring record.
His contract, which is set to be terminated, with the Wallabies and Waratahs runs until 2022.
Wales flanker Josh Navidi is counting himself fortunate that a freak injury has not ended his World Cup dream.
Navidi suffered a dislocated elbow just six days after starring in Wales’ Six Nations Grand Slam-sealing victory over Ireland last month.
The Cardiff Blues back rower has been ruled out for up to 12 weeks, but the 28-year-old knows the injury could have had far more serious consequences with a World Cup in Japan approaching fast.
“I spoke to (Blues teammate) Blaine Scully and he said he was out for six months with a similar injury,” Navidi said.
“I was quite taken aback that I’d come off quite lucky.
“Luckily I spoke to Blaine after the diagnosis – I’m glad that I hadn’t spoken to him before!
“This could have been a lot worse, and I’m thankful that I will be ready for World Cup camp.”
Navidi’s season came to a premature end inside two minutes of the Blues’ Guinness PRO14 derby against the Scarlets on March 22.
He was attempting to clean out a ruck when his arm was struck from behind by Blues scrum-half Tomos Williams.
“It was one of the worst things I’ve felt on a pitch,” Navidi said.
“When I heard that noise I thought ‘something’s gone on here’ and I was rolling around on the floor like an ant with my legs in the air.
“I didn’t know what to do but, fair play to the medical staff, they got it (elbow) back in within 30 seconds.
“I was taken to the treatment room and given a pain-killer pen, but it just felt as if I was getting drunk.
“The pain wasn’t going so I went home and had a couple of whiskies!”
Navidi had a two-hour operation the following week to reattach his forearm muscles to the bone.
His left arm will remain in a brace for the next four weeks, but he is expected to take a full role when Wales’ World Cup preparation starts with a July camp at Fiesch in the Swiss Alps.
That will come as a relief to head coach Warren Gatland as Navidi played such an important role in the Six Nations title triumph when Wales extended their run of consecutive victories to a record 14 games.
“You want to be fresh for those camps to get your body right for the World Cup and give yourself every chance to go for it,” said Navidi, who made his Wales debut in Japan in 2013.
“I’ve been out there at the Under-20 World Cup as well. It’s such a nice country and it will be great to play at a World Cup there.
“With the run of wins we’ve had it’s all about keeping the momentum going right through the World Cup.
“We’ve got a bigger mountain to climb now, but we’ve just got to keep on going.”