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?
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
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

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links