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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
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

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable