Six Nations: Andy Farrell makes case for defence as England vow not to be caught cold

Backs coach lends his support to Chris Ashton and Courtney Lawes but is thinking ahead to Wales game

Italy's strike-rate in Six Nations matches at Twickenham is not exactly off the scale – seven tries in six games, a figure that does not sit comfortably alongside the 36 conceded – so there are good reasons to expect England's barricades to hold firm on Sunday. Yet Andy Farrell, the man charged with maintaining the highest possible level of red-rose security, still spent much of the day mounting a stern defence of his team's defence.

Wesley Fofana's long-range try for France 11 days ago did not amuse the backs coach one little bit, resulting as it did from a series of fluffed tackles, but the most widely criticised of those who repeatedly missed their hits as the game unfolded, the wing Chris Ashton and the back-rower Courtney Lawes, had Farrell's full support.

"There were a few things with Chris in the Fofana incident: timing, technique, positioning in the backfield…basically he left himself with too much to do," Farrell acknowledged. "But the encouraging thing about the people in our squad is that they take responsibility for themselves. There's a lot of self-policing going on.

"Chris is always grabbing the coaches and pulling us to one side, asking to do extra work on various aspects of his game. Like the rest, he's willing to run the extra dummy line – to take on one more 100m chase – for the greater good. I've played in teams where people worked hard in order to make themselves look good. That's not the way of it here.

"As for Courtney, we wanted to see him getting off the defensive line fast and putting the fear of whatever into someone even if he didn't quite complete the tackle, because the next time that someone finds himself taking the ball up, he's not going to be thinking pretty thoughts. He's going to be thinking: 'S***, where's Courtney Lawes?'"

Both Ashton and Lawes will feel a little uncomfortable today, ahead of training sessions that will influence the shape of the combination that starts against the Azzurri on Sunday. Lawes, sent back to Northampton for a Premiership run-out last weekend, is not expected to hold his place in the back row, while Ashton, retained in camp by the head coach Stuart Lancaster, is under pressure from a number of rivals.

If he survives the cut, it will be because Lancaster thinks he might recover some lost confidence against opponents who have struggled to handle him in the past – most notably two years ago, when he scored four of England's eight tries in a 59-13 canter.

Farrell confessed that he and his fellow back-roomers had spent at least some time thinking about next week's tournament finale against Wales in Cardiff – a game that will, barring a very strange turn of events in four days' time, give England a shot at a first Grand Slam since the World Cup-winning year of years a decade ago.

"We'd be fools if we tried to tell you we haven't looked at both these closing matches, because at this stage of the competition it's about a 12-day strategy," he said. "But we have to get our preparations for Italy absolutely right: they've never beaten England, so this will be their grand final. If they could win without Sergio Parisse [their suspended captain, widely regarded as the world's finest No 8] they'd be absolute heroes, wouldn't they?"

If there is some patching up to be done in the defensive sphere, England's tight forwards are also in restoration mode after a tough day at scrum and line-out against the French. "We haven't put together a complete game," admitted the Leicester prop Dan Cole. "The back five of the scrum delivered a performance at the set-piece in the last match, but we had issues in the front row.

"Against Ireland a couple of weeks previously, it was the other way round. We need to be mentally alert. We want to go through 80 minutes with everyone doing what needs to be done."

Cole was comfortable enough with the England scrum being penalised for early engagements at the start of the game against Les Bleus – "You don't want to be stuffed by the opposition, so you're always edging," he explained – but he was harder on himself in respect of the yellow card he received for holding back the scrum-half Maxime Machenaud at the last knockings.

"It was daft," he acknowledged. "You can make excuses for these things but they shouldn't be happening. It gained us nothing. It was a brain-freeze."

Ireland, who face France in Dublin on Saturday, have lost the Ulster wing Craig Gilroy to injury and replaced him with Fergus McFadden of Leinster. They have yet to make a call in the outside-half position because Paddy Jackson, another Ulsterman, is struggling with a hamstring injury. Up front, the prop Cian Healy and the lock Mike McCarthy return to the tight five.

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit