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

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
The number of children in relative income poverty is currently 2.3 million in the UK

A Brazilian wandering spider
natureIt's worth knowing for next time one appears in your bananas
Life and Style
Time and Oak have developed a product that allows drinkers to customise the flavour and improve the quality of cheaper whiskey
food + drink

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

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past