London Irish 36 Saracens 24: Farrell's conversion lacks direction with Saracens on road to nowhere

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The Independent Online

Unlike Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, Andy Farrell's conversion from league to union is not quite straightforward.

There has been no blinding light, just the blinding pain of injury which kept him out of action for 18 months. And now that he has finally started his first senior match for Saracens, the voices from on high at Twickenham seem to be saying "centre" one minute and "flanker" the next.

Bob Casey, the London Irish captain who was a spectator on Saturday, has little doubt about Farrell's future. "He is definitely a 12. Once the game opened up and there was more space in the second half he looked a quality footballer."

The England coach, Andy Robinson, certainly thought centre was where Farrell should be introduced when he crossed rugby's divide. Now, though, such thoughts have changed, and the Saracens director of rugby, Alan Gaffney, said: "I still think No 6 is where he should play. Originally the RFU wanted him to play 12, but Andy is happy for 'Faz' to go down route six."

Farrell said: "I think I am the only one who doesn't have an opinion on the subject, but until I have played the game long enough to come up with my own honest opinion then I am just happy to be out there playing after the year I have had." Couple that unhappy spell of inaction to one of the most inept performances thus far this season by Saracens and it is little wonder that Farrell was not in a great state of mind after this EDF Energy Cup tie at the Madejski Stadium.

"I am pretty pissed off, to be honest," said the former Wigan and Great Britain captain, who did show some wonderful touches, particularly pinpoint and perfectly timed passes, during the match.

Saracens could hang on to very little possession, and not for long enough. Farrell said: "As a team performance it was pretty dire. A side needs to keep hold of the ball for a couple of phases at least so that the No 6 can come into it."

Saracens could not, so Farrell rarely got into the match, or not when it mattered anyway. He did fare a lot better after the interval, but still his role resembled more that of a centre than a blindside flanker.

Irish were not exactly exemplary, but they at least had some bite and finish. The fact that four of their five tries were the result of Saracens errors tells much of the story.

But at least they tried. Their pacy New Zealander Riki Flutey, at inside centre was in stunning form, ever threatening and always able to release supporting players in contact.

Richie Rees looks a canny signing. The former Ospreys scrum-half is nothing if not opportunistic, as his two tries, a charge down of Glenn Jackson's telegraphed clearance kick and a successful sale of a dummy from a close-range scrum, revealed. He will be worth watching.

London Irish: Tries Rees 2, Horak, Leguizamon, Flutey; Conversions Everitt 4; Penalty Everitt. Saracens: Tries Ratavou, Penalty try; Conversion Jackson; Penalties Jackson 4.

London Irish: M Horak (J Bishop, 66); D Armitage, G Tiesi, R Flutey, S Tagicakibau; B Everitt (S Geraghty, 72), R Rees; N Hatley (capt; T Lae'aetoa, 23), R Russell (D Coetzee, 53), R Skuse, N Kennedy, J Hudson (A McCullen, 62), K Roche, O Magne (S Armitage, 62), J Leguizamon (P Murphy, 62).

Saracens: D Scarbrough; R Haughton, K Ratavou, B Johnston, (K Sorrell, 56), R Penney (T De Vedia, 77); G Jackson, M Rauluni (N de Kock, 67); K Yates (capt), S Byrne (F Ongaro, 63), B Broster (T Mercey, 77), H Vyvyan, T Ryder, A Farrell (Mercey, 67-77), B Russell (D Seymour, 63), P Gustard.

Referee: B Robertson (Warwickshire).

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