Matt Dawson column: Owen Farrell holding England back in Six Nations

1 week ago
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Matt Dawson

Owen Farrell is an England great but right now it is as if he does not fit in the side’s attacking structure.

Whatever is going on in his rugby life, he is under pressure. You could see it at times when he was talking to the referee.

Farrell was scrapping, fighting and was lucky he was not punished for a late tackle on Italy scrum-half Stephen Varney.

He is on the edge. He will not like it, but we have all been there and it has got to be recognised by selection.

It does not mean Farrell is not going to be a world-class player, but there just needs to be a bit of coaching and training – maybe away from the side. Something needs to happen, because it is holding England back.

There were moments when he was not sharp, dropping the ball or knocking it on. That may be because he has not been playing while Saracens wait for the Championship to begin.

You do not lose your world-class status and talent because of a couple of poor games, but it has been an extended period where he has not been lighting it up.

Owen Farrell

Against Italy, you had fly-half George Ford zipping around, the ball was getting moved really quickly but 12 – where Farrell played against Italy – is a real problem for England.

There is not that link to the outside backs, so everything becomes very lateral and there are no decoys or threat to hold the defence.

When play breaks up, you had the brilliance of Jonny May, Anthony Watson and Henry Slade – the real threats for England – but the ball has got to get to them.

Eddie Jones has not found the 12 who can get the ball to where the space is quickly. Is Jones ever going to try Ford and Ollie Lawrence at 10 and 12?

Is Paolo Odogwu, who has been called into the England squad but not yet capped, going to get a chance? Do you put Slade at 12 instead of 13 and give him that playmaking role?

Jones could easily have rested Farrell this week, saying he had a knock and wanted his captain fit for the Wales game in two weeks. It would have been a bit of a story but you could probably have got away with it because it was Italy.

Now if they do not include him against Wales – which is not going to happen, he is going to play – it is such a big game that it would be massive news.

‘I am not convinced by England’s attack coaching’

England had so many opportunities against Italy but they made hard work of it. There does not seem to be an attacking instinct about them.

A lot of the time their tries and line breaks came from forwards who were offloading – Courtney Lawes, Kyle Sinckler and Maro Itoje – or there was a bit of brilliance from Watson.

England do not seem to be able to run the lines and fool the opposition so that there is a lovely clean line break. They seem to be quite predictable.

I am not convinced they are being coached well enough in their sessions day to day. They have got attack coach Simon Amor, who was a world-class sevens player and no doubt has a fantastic ability to coach skills.

Does he have the knowledge to be coaching a team how to play 15-a-side attacking rugby at this level? I am yet to be convinced of that.

We have been told we are going to see an attacking side now and England have changed their emphasis to attack.

Every single team practises both defence and attack and England have made a meal out of it. I find it nonsense.

England want to be the greatest team of all time. How on earth do they think they are going to be the greatest team of all time if they have not been practising their attack? That does not make sense to me.

France, Wales and Scotland – teams that do all their attack and defence in training – are hitting their straps in this Six Nations. They understand their running lines and have moves to break teams down.

It is all connected and they are in sync with one another. England do not look in sync. I am hoping that is going to progress over the next couple of weeks – but England have been slow out of the blocks.

‘It is moving towards an epic Six Nations’

After the fallow week, defending champions England go to Wales, who claimed victory against Scotland in a seven-try thriller. If England win, their title hopes will be revived after the opening Calcutta Cup loss.

It is moving towards an epic Six Nations and, despite my reservations about them, it is actually pretty much in England’s hands. If they beat France and Ireland too, it will go down to bonus points or points difference.

I have not changed my mind about Italy’s place in the competition. The Azzurri’s performance against England was one of the best I have seen from Franco Smith’s side, because they look structured and threatening at times.

But the fact remains the score was 41-18 – and it is their 29th Six Nations loss in a row.

There are a couple of nations who, if they were given financial support and a leg up into a tier-one tournament like the Six Nations, they would be competitive after 20 years.

I will not start thinking Italy deserve their place until they start winning.

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.

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