England clutch at straws by casting Farrell as saviour

Andy Farrell is no doubt a great rugby league player, but it was with something approaching disbelief that I read the stories last week to the effect that he was joining Saracens to become the saviour of England.

There is, to begin with, the small matter of his new club. I have always regarded Saracens as the poor man's Wasps. This placing, I realise fully, derives from an era in rugby which is almost as remote and quite as irrational as the Byzantine empire, when Richmond and London Scottish still existed as clubs and the most feared team in the whole country were Coventry.

But even if we press the "fast forward'' button, and recognise the new-found status of Saracens as a top-class club, they are still an odd sort of outfit. As the racing writers used to put it, they flatter to deceive.

They have a record of appointing coaches or managers who were great players in their day, such as Wayne Shelford and Francois Pienaar, but who, for whatever reason, do not prove so adept at coaching or managing.

In the same way, they pick up fine players approaching the end of their careers, such as Philippe Sella, Tim Horan and Thomas Castaignède, and give them the opportunity of a last hurrah. Unhappily, they seem to spend a lot of their time in an injured state. There is another Saracens category: of promising young players who splutter out and fail to fulfil their promise. I shall not name names because I do not want to hurt anyone's feelings.

The club now has a new coach, Steve Diamond, formerly of Sale, who is said to be good at handling players. One can only wish him the success with Farrell which his predecessors did not enjoy with their own expensive imports.

Well before the advent of professionalism, I was one of the first rugby writers to urge the free flow of personnel between the two codes. I considered it humiliating not to David Watkins but to rugby union when that player was barred from the Newport clubhouse after leaving the Welsh club to play for Salford.

Then everything changed. Not only did such absurd attempts at social exclusion end but there was interchangeability among the players. Wales were greatly strengthened by the return from the north of Allan Bateman and Scott Gibbs, David Young and Scott Quinnell; though Jonathan Davies was perhaps less happy after his return to Cardiff (he had previously been with Neath).

Iestyn Harris was in a different position because he was not returning to union but switching codes. His old league position of outside-half did not suit at Cardiff and, after several false moves, he settled at inside centre, where he made a substantial contribution to the Wales side - when picked. But his wife and children missed Yorkshire, where he has returned.

For economic reasons, fewer English players made the switch from union. Accordingly, the imports tend to be new boys such as Farrell rather than prodigal sons. Jason Robinson has proved an enormous success. It was not his fault that Sir Clive Woodward, in a typical illustration of Woodward adventurism, turned him into a full-back - a change in which Sir Clive's successor, Andy Robinson, has persisted.

Another league player who was a great success was Gary Connolly, who had several part-seasons at outside centre for Harlequins. Sir Clive wanted to sign him up for England, but Connolly resisted, presumably on financial grounds, and is now with Widnes, having started off at Wigan. He should have been put in the England side straight away, because watching him for a few games at The Stoop was enough to demonstrate what he could do.

The great enigma remains Henry Paul. It is unnecessary to retell the story of his relationship with Robinson. My question is this: if Robinson was incapable of dealing satisfactorily with Henry Paul, what makes him think he can handle Andy Farrell?

The answer seems to be that Farrell is a genius. But then, Paul also had the highest reputation.

Geniuses are notoriously difficult to handle, and Robinson has his prickly side, as demonstrated by his contretemps with Matt Dawson. It will be nice for everyone if the Farrell move comes off. But England are looking for a light flickering over a marsh if they expect one player, however talented, to make up for the disappointing Six Nations.

They should cheer up. They could have beaten Wales, France and Ireland. And they will still provide most of the Lions pack.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?