Six Nations 2014: Owen Farrell ready to go on attack for Wales showdown

England’s backs have been working hard to improve their ability to spot try-scoring opportunities ready for Wales game as  points tally becomes crucial

The inability of England’s rugby players to finish tries when they have men to spare can be bracketed with their footballing counterparts’ dire record in penalty shoot-outs: they acknowledge the problem exists, to the extent of working to improve their visual “scanning” with a training drill using coloured lights introduced by the skills coach Mike Catt. Equally they insist, just like the footballers, that practice can never replicate a real-life situation.

“I think practice can make you more comfortable, but it’s not the same,” says Owen Farrell, the England fly-half at the heart of two missed opportunities during last week’s otherwise heartening win over Ireland. “A big part of my game is making sure I am looking. My head has constantly got to be on a swivel, looking to where the space is. You’ve got to be in the moment and be ready to go there.”

With two rounds to play over the next two weekends, the Six Nations’ Championship could be won by any one of five teams. It may require teams with the same number of wins to be separated by points difference; or England may find that beating Wales at Twickenham next Sunday and the Italians in Rome the following Saturday will give them the title outright.

The players admitted in their review of the 13-10 defeat of the Irish that two tries were missed when overlaps were available. That’s 14 points lost through a lack of communication, passing and alignment of running. The first was very early in the match, when the frustration of the players – who claimed they couldn’t hear each other’s calls over the noise of the crowd – was replicated in the BBC commentary box by Brian Moore screaming “wide!” and then “No!” when Farrell was smothered by an Irish tackle with team-mates waiting for a pass.

The training tool is a set of coloured lights that Catt – a former England back noted for fine distribution – sticks to the walls in front of, to the side of or behind the players as they run through their skills. While being accurate in their handling and passing they must be aware enough to shout “red” or “green” when it appears; or one player may use the colour appearing to trigger a collective change in direction.

“The scanning is for every part of the game,” says Farrell. “You have to make sure you’re scanning around the room, as different colours light up at different times and different heights. All we’re trying to do is make good decisions.”

Farrell has been praised in this Six Nations for his more attacking outlook, keeping defences guessing; his dummy to assist the try by Luther Burrell in Paris was a case in point. There was a sweet line break in Scotland, although Farrell of Saracens modestly credits a decoy move by Exeter’s Jack Nowell there. Yet it may have been an unwise attempt at a show-and-go that cost England that early try last week.

“You couldn’t hear anything,” Farrell explains, “and I’m obviously trying to get the appropriate depth and width, I couldn’t be stood next to Danny [Care at scrum-half] as the ball came out, so we need to make eye contact, get our hands up and make sure if the ball needs to come, we’ll see each other’s body language.” Care’s short-range breaks have sometimes ignored space elsewhere too. Yet he and Farrell have helped England to two wins after a near miss in the opener in France.

The 22-year-old Farrell has become England’s senior fly-half after the omission of Leicester’s Toby Flood. “I’ve not changed because Toby has left,” he says. “If ever I felt something needed saying, I’d say it. I’ve always been a big mouth anyway.” He does admit, though, to “learning a lot” last summer, when he toured with the British and Irish Lions led by Wales’s head coach Warren Gatland, with the backs in the hands of Wales’s Rob Howley.

That must have afforded Farrell a unique insight into next week’s opponents? “It’s accelerated my experience because I’d only played against Wales twice,” he says. “And it was pretty much Wales’s system that I was playing with for the Lions. But their system is no real secret anyway. They are very direct in the way they play and get round the corner. And they might just know a tad bit more about me now.”

Farrell is also the man on the spot – rugby’s equivalent of the penalty spot – when it comes to goal-kicking. A mighty 50-metre effort got England rolling against Ireland but his overall Championship success rate is not outstanding at 64 per cent. “With my kicking for goal, you try and practise enough so that in a game you just do it,” he says. “But I only have to kick a ball straight. The footballers have to beat someone in front of them.”

With two matches left how can England improve?

Attack in the red zone

The inability to finish a multi-phase move cost England at least two tries against Ireland last week. They need better communication, passing and straight running. The All Blacks’ World Cup-winners practised short-range passing ad nauseam. 5/10

The scrum

Losing Alex Corbisiero and Dan Cole at loosehead and tighthead respectively was alarming. But with Joe Marler improving and Dave Wilson being rushed back, the scrum’s only discomfort has been a few wobbly moments against Ireland – as the country’s proud scrummaging history demands. 8/10

The line-out

An area of stunning perfection for England (and Ireland) last week: not one throw lost – though no steals. England will fancy nicking some from Wales, and mauling them too. Defensively in France and Scotland, England are in good nick at the line-out – if Dylan Hartley is on the field. 8/10


Tries conceded: two of the freakish kind in Paris, none in Scotland and one to a spot of Irish chicanery – the system looks tight. When Brian O’Driscoll beat the first shoulder of Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell last week, the cover was good. England’s captain, Chris Robshaw, leads the tackle count with 43. 8/10


Owen Farrell’s nine kicks in 14 attempts is a skinny 64 per cent, but last year was not much better: 69 per cent, or 16 from 23. 6.4/10


England appear to have solved what used to be a big problem. With Ireland they have conceded fewest penalties, 25.  They are the only teams with no yellow or red cards. 9/10

Hugh Godwin

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower