Owen Farrell must give England bite against New Zealand

Outside-half's aggression will be key to home hopes as Lancaster looks to combat Dan Carter and All Blacks

The last time England finished within a single score of the All Blacks, they did it by summoning the warrior spirit. The year was 2005 – the match took place a few short months after the New Zealanders had obliterated the British and Irish Lions in what was quickly rechristened the Land of the Long White Shroud – and the contest was brutally hard. But for the resistance of the great silver-ferned centre and captain Tana Umaga, the favourites might easily have come unstuck.

Stuart Lancaster knows his history and is prepared to unleash the dogs in an attempt to pressure the world champions into uncharacteristic errors. “We can’t be hypnotised by them,” said the red-rose coach, his calm and reasonable manner spiced with something a little more intense. “There’s no doubt that we have to attack them physically, and while I’m not talking about blind physicality – we want to be making clear and accurate decisions, not running around headless – we believe that if you get stuck into them for the full 80 minutes, you can force mistakes.”

In support of this, Lancaster pointed to last weekend’s close game with South Africa. “Many people see the Springboks as the most physical side in world rugby, yet we came out on top in many of the contact areas,” he said. “To give ourselves a chance of winning this game, we need that component to work for us again. We need to scrummage well, improve on our line-outs and restarts and make our hits count in defence.”

All of which England are capable of doing. The front row of Alex Corbisiero, Tom Youngs and Dan Cole went into the set-piece confrontation with the Boks determined to right the wrongs of the previous week’s outing against Australia and achieved their aim – not least by forcing Jannie du Plessis, that South African bear of a tight-head prop, off the field after a mere 40 minutes of rugby. The pack will also be confident of ironing out glitches in the aerial game, while the reappearance of Owen Farrell alongside the defence leader Brad Barritt should beef things up in the tackle department.

But there are two areas – the breakdown and the “exit” strategy – that could undermine everything England try to do in this, their highest-profile game of the calendar year by some considerable distance. Lancaster has been working on both in training this week, in an attempt to nullify the ball-winning threat posed by the All Black captain Richie McCaw and ensure that Farrell and his fellow decision-makers in the back line, the scrum-half Ben Youngs and the full-back Alex Goode, do not “commit suicide” by attempting clever stunts on their own side of the halfway line.

“If you look at scrums, line-outs and breakdowns, you see where the balance of a game lays,” the coach said. “There might be 10 scrums, 15 line-outs and between 180 and 200 breakdowns. New Zealand are very, very good in that last area and it’s been a big subject for us this week.”

As for the importance of playing the game in the optimum parts of the field, does not Farrell have some previous in getting this wrong? Against the Boks in Durban last June, for instance? Lancaster did not betray even a hint of concern. “What Owen has that sets him apart from many outside-halves is a ‘big game temperament’,” the coach replied. “He has been outstanding in training over the course of this autumn series, he’s made a positive impact every time we’ve brought him off the bench and when you think what he delivered in the last Six Nations as a 20-year-old coming into a completely new side, you can see that he has some huge qualities as a Test player.”

From Farrell’s perspective, the forthcoming challenge is significantly greater than the one he faced last weekend. Against the Boks, he came off the bench early in the second half and spent 30-odd claustrophobic minutes on the front foot against a similarly youthful opponent in Patrick Lambie. Tomorrow, he could find himself going the full 80 against Daniel Carter, the heaviest scorer in the history of international rugby and the brightest star in an All Black back division better described as a constellation.

Yet Lancaster was unwilling to separate the individual from the collective by paying Carter special attention. “The All Blacks have threats all over the field,” he said. “There’s no point concentrating on just one of them and ignoring 14 others.” As the New Zealanders are so potent in so many areas, might there be a little reverse psychology at work? Might the coach be able to use England’s underdog status to free the red-rose spirit? Again, he would not play ball. “There’s no more freedom in being underdogs because I never put any restrictions on the players’ mindsets,” he responded. “What we have here is a no-fear environment, whoever we’re playing.”

Should Farrell pick up an injury or fall victim to the shepherd’s crook treatment, Freddie Burns will make his international debut. Many good judges see him as a long-term option in the principal playmaking role, especially now he is developing the full-range of game-management skills to go with his individual trickery and dead-eye marksmanship from the kicking tee. If the Gloucester outside-half gives a decent account of himself, he will be guaranteed a place in the Six Nations squad when it is named in January.

“We know he’s been performing well in the Premiership and that he brings something special to a team with his creativity,” Lancaster said. “He’s an exciting player, and I’m excited to see him in this position.”

At 22, Burns is a year older than the elder statesman in the starting team, and on the Carter Scale of Attacking Brilliance, he is also ahead of his immediate rival. But when it comes to a scrap, there is no comparison. On Saturday, of all days, England will need every last drop of Farrell’s belligerence.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
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

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition