Saracens need Farrell to produce some fresh ideas

Weekend preview

Click to follow
The Independent Online

More than one former England international has been heard moaning and groaning about the "negative" rugby played over the first four rounds of Premiership matches, which proves two things: that ex-players always believe the game was better in their day, and that some of them – perhaps even a majority – are unable to draw the right conclusions from the evidence placed before them.

For the avoidance of doubt, try-scoring is up on last year – not obviously a sign that defences are more dominant now than they were 12 months ago. If Harlequins continue their current strike-rate their touchdown tally will be in the top 80s by the season's end, and as things stood before last night's games at Franklin's Gardens and Sixways, the likes of Northampton, Wasps and Worcester were also well ahead of the game, statistically speaking. So too Exeter, who will smash last term's try-count to smithereens if they carry on.

There are, as ever, exceptions to the general rule, with Bath and Saracens doing more than anyone to buck the trend. The West Countrymen lost the best of their attacking selves when they engineered the departure of the Australian coach Steve Meehan at the end of the 2010-11 campaign and, despite the promising progress of Kyle Eastmond – aka "Jason Robinson 2" – on the right wing, it will take their new think-tank a while to address the issue.

Saracens, meanwhile, have won themselves a Premiership title since Brendan Venter returned to South Africa for family reasons the best part of two years ago, but their rugby has not been anywhere near as joyful.

All of which makes tomorrow's derby meeting between Quins, the reigning champions, and Sarries, their immediate predecessors, rather interesting. The home side are scoring more heavily than any of their rivals: only Sale, bottom of the table and a coach light as a consequence, have scored fewer tries than Mark McCall's team.

The unusually devout Saracens travelling supporters can only pray that McCall sees his way to addressing the drought, but as the Ulsterman claimed "Wengeritis" in failing to see Chris Ashton's yellow-card offence at Exeter last week, despite endless big-screen replays, those prayers may fall on deaf ears.

In some ways, Saracens are reminiscent of England: deeply committed, highly physical, intelligently structured…and short of ideas in midfield. But for Alex Goode at full-back and Ashton out wide, they would play their rugby in an imaginative vacuum. More than anything, they need Owen Farrell to bring something new to his game – something that might allow him to ask questions of Harlequins' resident All Black playmaker Nick Evans in the way Evans asks them of everyone else. Come to think of it, the England coaches would like to see it too.

And what if Farrell fails to deliver? There is an outside-half at Gloucester who has ideas oozing from every pore. His name? Freddie Burns.