Should Farrell be given a run at flyhalf for England?

Owen Farrell

When Eddie Jones announced his England training squad last week, perhaps inevitably the focus was all on the one man not there – Danny Cipriani – rather than those picked.

If Jones’ comment that Cipriani was only third or fourth-choice flyhalf felt a touch harsh, given he is technically the incumbent after starting in the final test of the South Africa tour, it is also perhaps understandable. George Ford has been a mainstay throughout Jones’ tenure and has performed admirably, while Owen Farrell is England’s key man, whatever position he fills on the pitch. Farrell also happened to outplay Cipriani on Sunday in the Gloucester v Saracens game, although the performance of the Sarries pack certainly helped in that regard.

Cipriani, despite his sublime early season form, is also perhaps suffering for that Jersey incident in preseason, despite what the England coach says to the contrary. When there is little to pick between players, other non-rugby considerations become a factor.

But that inclusion of Farrell as a flyhalf in Jones’ thinking is telling. Jones has typically picked Farrell at inside centre, only starting at 10 in two out of the 32 games – and in both of which Ford was summoned from the bench after new-look midfield pairings (Luther Burrell and Jonathan Joseph in the first test in Australia in 2016 and Ben Te’o and Joseph against Ireland in the Six Nations this year) failed to fire, with Farrell shifting back to the inside-centre berth.

You suspect Jones has always wanted Farrell as his starting 10, but – like Stuart Lancaster before him – has been hamstrung by the lack of genuine options at inside centre. Farrell makes a better 12 than the best of the rest, despite being in reality a 10. It was a great decision by Jones when he took over, mostly resolving a long-standing conundrum for England, but is it starting to rankle – a compromise Jones is becoming frustrated with making? Sir Clive Woodward is another who believes Farrell should be installed in his preferred and best position.

Jones’ selection of Manu Tuilagi, as well as Ben Te’o, in the squad suggests he may be reconsidering his options – although in Manu’s case, typically, injury seems to have put that idea on hold, at least for the moment. Jones has publicly acknowledged England’s need for more gain-line-breaking power in the backs, and the wrecking ball figure of Tuilagi would certainly offer that (the usual caveat with Manu: if he manages to stay fit). So would Te’o, who I think is definitely better suited to the 12 shirt than the 13, where he has usually played for England in the past. Joe Cokanasiga of Bath could be another option to add some power – although he remains relatively raw.

The fact that Henry Slade, in particular, and also Alex Lozowski, seem to be emerging as genuine options at 13 adds interest. We know the value of twin playmakers operating in the midfield; with the way teams are defending and and tweaks to the game’s laws making space a premium, the ability to move the ball wide quickly is a necessity. But both seem more comfortable in the outside-centre channel than the inside, deceptive turns of pace and graceful running lines making them more suited to the extra space at 13 than the hard yards, fast defence and physicality of 12.

Jones actually ran a three-playmaker axis in South Africa, with Ford (then Cipriani) flanked by Farrell and Slade. While not a disaster by any means, it still felt like all three were a bit similar and, as such, the combination lacked much attacking threat in and of itself – rather a means to getting the ball to the dangerous runners in the back three at the right time.

Another option at 13, the injured Jonathan Joseph, for all his ability, does not offer that playmaking aspect and therefore (when his form demanded inclusion) necessitated a creative 12.

Bringing Tuilagi or Ben Te’o into the backline at 12 and picking Slade or Lozowski outside would add another dimension to England’s backline, giving it some direct thrust and power, while retaining the second playmaker. This would allow Farrell to take his optimum place at flyhalf – and something I think Jones is giving serious consideration to.

Of course, in a perfect world, I would actually have my second playmaker at fullback in the form of Alex Goode, which would allow Elliot Daly to take up his best position at 13 without losing any creative vision. But that’s just me.

What do you think? Should Jones rejig his backline and move Farrell to flyhalf? Or do you prefer Farrell at 12 with Ford or Cipriani in the driving seat?

By Henry Ker

30 thoughts on “Should Farrell be given a run at flyhalf for England?

  1. Great article and very interesting topic. On this blog I’ve previously suggested the idea of Tuilagi at 12 and Slade at 13. I first heard this on BT Sport’s Rugby Tonight where Ben Kay was explaining that either player can play both centre positions meaning it would create countless options when it comes to strike plays from set pieces. Although Joseph has been then incunbent 13 for the majority of Jones’ tenure I feel that he can make a good impact coming off the bench (as he did against Italy in this years 6N). This with a back three of 11 May/Nowell 14 Watson and 15 Daly would definitely cause problems for most international defences.

  2. My biggest problem with Farrell to 10 is he then isn’t playing 12 and I dont know who is. I’d be happy with Farrell at 10 & 12, then Daly playing on both wings, full back and outside centre. Also for maybe 6 years now how many fans, pundits and coaches idealised Manu as a solution to all are midfield woes. “The messiah will return and solve all midfield concerns by barreling over people”. Manu fit is so fun to watch and he puts bums on seats, but too often flys out of the line and gets exposed and when he makes breaks or gaps he doesn’t have the ability to link up or keep the ball alive like some much less physical centres.
    I think Wales’ Hadleigh Parkes offers far less of a physical threat but he is so consistent and makes so few mistakes that he can perform well at international level. I can imagine D.mackenzie waltzing round Tuilagi in a bit of space, to be fair put the ball in Manus hands and it’s not a fair contest either.

    1. James – agree with you on ‘Manu the messiah’, trying to deliberately avoid bigging him up too much at the moment, not sure he will ever be quite the player we hoped after the all-black victory in 2012! Also agree about his defensive positioning. However, that’s the reason i would prefer to see him at 12 than 13 as there is less space for him to defend and that tendency would be less of an issue. Ben Te’o would do the job as well – he was pretty tidy on the Lions tour playing 12.

  3. Farrell should only be playing at 10 if we have the right person at 12. T’eo is good but we also need to be looking beyond the world cup as T’eo is 31.

    I still think Marchant would be a good option at 12. A strong ball carrier with good pace who has played at 12 before. Cokanasaiga would be worth experimenting with at 12. If he can get the defensive positioning right for the position he could be a revelation.

    1. Not sure the age issue is as important. When we have played T’eo starting at 12 the ball often doesn’t get out to he back 3. Teams know he is running more direct and I think Eng can become a bit one-dimensional.

  4. I like the idea of Marchant too – but he’s not really seeming to kick on at Quins. Which may be due to Quins more than him….

    Another thought is Johnny Williams at Newcastle who looks like he has all the necessary skills. 6’2 and over 16 stone, he’s not a small chap

    1. Johnny Williams does look pretty handy, thought he had a good game on Friday evening, especially that neat little out the back door offload for Zach Kibirige’s try.

  5. All this complicated stuff about whom should be playing where & with whom. FCOL, it’s less than a yr out to the WC! So, should Jones still be tinkering with his back line only 3 yrs into the job? Sure, why not. Lancaster did & it worked pretty well for him didn’t it? England should KNOW their best back line combo’s by now, injuries notwithstanding. Who is the best, most effective & creative fly1/2 in the country? Cipriani. So that 1’s sorted then (Jones apart i.e.) Ford is back up, but needs work with pressured option taking. Farrell plays because he’s the points accumulator. As he’s already @ 12 & it’s a bit late to change now, he stays there. The outside centre ought to be Daly. It’s his more normal or natural role. He’s also probably the most ’rounded’ player in the team with sharpe wits & option taking ability. Good on attack & defence. Wings? Probably May & Nowell. Full back has to be Mr. Dependable, Mike Brown. Unlikely to let you down as last man under the high ball; unlike Watson a couple of times, so he’s off the bench & to some ‘D’ & finishing practise. EJ must encourage Brown make more incursions & to off load . 1/2back. Care? More versatile than Youngs? Robson off the bench? So there’s a stable line. Others like Tui, Slade, Lozowski, even Teo, etc have it to do from the bench. Now all that’s required of England’s forwards is to is get picked & firing for their settled back line mates.

    1. I have to agree with your pragmatism Don. We are no nearer finding a settled midfield partnership than we were when super Ed took charge. It’s all well and good we punters flinging names around and theorising. I just have an increasing feeling of unease about this world cup. it feels so redolent of ’15 at this stage.
      Now we learn that our best scrummaging loose head has decided to call time on England! Where’s me valium?

      1. Well, in terms of feeling uneasy Acee, it’s a bit different for me. I’m outside the tent. As a self styled (or not) rugby ‘purist’ though, I am frustrated by Jones & what & how he hopes to achieve it for England. It’s glib stating it’s to ‘make England the best team in the world’ & to have ‘3 for every position’. He needs to pick a discernible style of play (an all round one IMO) & then select his team accordingly. He seems to have fallen into Lancaster’s old mould & become yo yo like with his back line selections (forwards are another subject). I don’t see that he need make wholesale changes either. However, 1 or 2 players can be pivotal for a team . That’s why I bang on about Daly in midfield & Cipriani @ fly1/2. The rest can more or less pick themselves, although Farrell’s goal kicking make him important too. As already mentioned, I’d also have Brown @ the back. However, with just 2 changes @ fly1/2 (although Cipriani is technically the incumbent here) & 13, I don’t see these as ‘flinging names or theorising’ over much, do you? Unfortunately for England, in my view, I doubt Eddie will incorporate these alterations into his team sheet. Pity.

        1. My comment about flinging names around was in response to the number of different midfield ers being mentioned by various contributors, nothing personal!
          As i said, I favour the pragmatic approach and I agree with you that Jones is doing a fair impression of a rabbit in the headlights at present. Apart from the unbeaten run ( which quickly became a hindrance rather than a help imo) and a grand slam, he’s actually achieved nowt in terms of developing players, building a recognised style of play and an identity for the team. Peace brother!

    2. Get what you’re saying Don and it makes some sense but I think you’re overplaying it.
      All teams are tinkering in the run up to the RC. The ABs have made 6 (!) changes to their team for this weekend’s game. They’ve played something like 5 different mid-field combos in the last 6 games. Do they know what their best combo is?
      And the same goes for their back 3 who are in a constant state of flux – there’s no settled combo there
      And btw not picking on the ABs – just using them as a an example.
      Could equally look at the Aussies and their fly half/mid-field/back row/ locks
      or SA and their mid-field and wingers
      Or Wales and their mid-field
      Or even Ireland!
      In fact mid-fields world-wide seem to be tinkered with all the time. Is there a single side with a settled 12/13 pairing?

      1. Won’t comment on the rest of the teams’ midfields as you likely know them better than me.. & it’s late! However, I believe NZ do know their midfield. It’s the1 out on Sat. Baring injuries to SBW’s shoulder & Crotty’s concussions they have been 1st choice since the previous WC. Ben smith has often rotated between fullback & wing, again usually as injury cover, but he’s adept at either. The 1st choice wings are Naholo & Ioane. The latter’s been out injured for a bit until recently. The back line playing on Sat is near 1st choice, with the possible exception of Perenara. The pack has changes, but Hansen seems confident & it’s an opportunity to blood newer players as well as covering for injuries to Retellick & Moody for example. Also, there’s a difference between ‘tinkering’ & rotating. Most teams suffer injuries & or wear & tear, so it’s makes sense to give players big game experience, especially away from home. This seems sound policy in building & preparing for the WC, which is mot so far away now. NZ know the type of game they want & need to play & which usually works. It’s a high tempo, quick ball game which requires decision making @ speed regarding attack & ‘D’ options. They pick players, combos to fit this style whom understand & effect 5 mixed forward/back pods placed across the paddock. And ‘If they understand all that my son, they’ll make me proud’.. I hope.

  6. Its pretty clear that Jones wants to play Farrell at 10.
    He’s banking on Te’o getting fit and Manu finding some form. That would free up the 12 shirt and enable Farrell to move to 10.
    Dont be shocked if we see a Farrell-Teo-Manu midfield at some point this Autumn.
    I think 10 is Farrell’s best position; it’s where he plays for his club and where he has his best games.
    Is he a better 10 than Ford or Cipriani? I’d say not but the clincher is that he invariably nails the pressure kicks.
    Daly looks set for a run at FB, leaving the wings to be determined. May seems sure of one spot and I think there’s a good chance Cokanasiga will get an opportunity.

    1. Well, if Jones wanted to play Farrell @ 10, why’s he waited 3 yrs to (potentially) do so? Moreso if he’s a lesser fly1/2 than Ford & Cipriano as you state. Besides, he can still kick goals from 12. Therefore his ‘move’ to 10 surely represents retrograde & fear driven thinking. Likewise to feature a Teo, Tui midfield. They’re both crash ball merchants. Where’s creativity? As this also applies to Farrel IMO, someone in midfield has to possess guile. Daly can play @ fullback, or wing, but it’s in midfield where England have a crucial weakness. Surely this is where Daly fits his country’s (& his own?) needs best. After all & to use another part of your argument regarding Farrell, he has played there plenty previously for his club Wasps. This leaves, as stated elsewhere, Brown @ fullback. Jones just needs to insist on his entering & offloading in the line more often. That’s part of coaching I venture. The wings can sort themselves out. Likely between May & A N OTHER. Seems the nearer the WC the more the reversion to conservative pragmatism. If England have serious aspirations to win the trophy, then they may do so by bringing in ‘safer’, more solid & stolid elements to their attack. However, I doubt it.

      1. We only have eleven months before the WC. That sounds like a long time but measured in actual games it equates to something like 11or 12 tops. That means no more tinkering and what if’s. Jones has to make a selection and stick by it for at least 8 of those games, possibly all of them. As don p rightly says , it’s all about coaching and nurturing from here on in. The time for dithering is long gone.

  7. I was feeling ok about loose head with Marlow and mako with grange coming back now I’m going into meltdown
    Cant really blame jones for the centres because they are either injured or shite

    1. I do (blame Jones for the centres). See above. The last part of yr last sentence still raised a laugh though. Do keep up yr humourous musings!

    1. I do hope it’s nothing to do with EJ and his management. Whatever the reason though, it’s a massive shame.
      To my mind England’s best loosehead and whilst it may occasionally have got the better of him, he had the aggression that the England forwards are lacking at the moment and that every great pack needs.
      Much as I think Genge could be a ready-made replacement (if he stays fit), this is a bit of a disaster for England

      1. It’s even later now. Marler’s giving notice won’t help England, but hasn’t their front row, until just recently @ least, been Mako Hartley & Cole? A loss to be sure & Genge seems to have anger management issues @ times, but aren’t there other capable props out there? From Exeter & Bath maybe? Need some of this rotational game time, however the AI’s are a good opportunity for this & there’s little time left anyway now.

  8. Loose-head is a problem for England, and has been for a while. There are fine rugby playing props, who are fantastic around the park, but none are absolutely convincing at scrum time.

    Genge seemed to have been improving in the scrum – but he is out till the new year (I think). Obano has never convinced in the scrum. Interested to see whether either of the Exeter loose heads can scrummage at International level.

    Nathan Catt (if he stays fit) seems to have a good tight game, and I understand also that this Rapava Ruskin is English – or English qualified – when did this happen? He is a very good scrummager.

    1. I was trying to think of England qualified L/Heads and overlooked R-Ruskin. I don’t know that much about him tbh,other than he’s got Georgian antecedents and he’s a huge unit for a loose head. According to his stats he’s six feet three and nearly twenty stones!

  9. If Farrell plays 10 England could do a lot worse than pick Barrett and Lozowski outside him and Goode at full back. At least they are well used to playing together, and no other regular 12 has put their hand up for the shirt since Barrett got dropped. Not the quickest but gutsy, good hands, great at the breakdown and defensively organised.

  10. There will be howls of derision at that suggestion Andy, as Barritt is viewed as being synonymous with the Lancaster debacle but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that a Barritt / Daly midfield just might be the answer.

    1. I can cope with howls of derision Acee, but can anyone name me a 12 who has played better in the Premiership in the past three seasons and has an instinctive understanding of Farrell’ s game? The selection of one would make the other more logical. The same logic applies to Goode and Lozowski. If you are nowhere near knowing what your best combinations are and are running out of time then pick well established players who work together all the time. I would have Lozowski’ s pace and aggression in front of Tuilagi, who imv is slow or T’eo who is patchy. I admit to having a bit of a blind spot re Daley, who can be brilliant but is inconsistent. I would have him on the bench. Whichever ten he picks I am afraid they will be playing outside Ben Young s who would not be anywhere near any squad of mine.

  11. Agreed re: Barritt. Jeremy Guscott has said much the same in the Rugby Paper this weekend about Farrell going to 10 and possibly Barritt at 12 if neither of Tuilagi or Teo are fit.

    To get back to the initial question about Farrell going to 10, I heartily agree that he should. He’s one of England’s few truly world class players (surely in the Top 5 rugby players in the world, full stop) and that’s his natural position. He’s won everything in sight at the club level multiple times playing at FH and as the most influential position on the pitch surely you want your best player there.

    I’ve never understood the obsession with Ford by many English fans and, obviously, Jones. He’s a talented player, but when was the last time he won a knock-out game of any kind? Farrell is a winner to his bones, as proven by the trophy cabinet!!

    1. If Cips is not going to make the cut then yes, Farrell would be the most sensible choice. I’ve never been convinced by Ford either. Too inconsistent at Int’l level and struggles without a dominant pack. i really worry that we are going to be under the cosh at scrum time. we lack technique and nastiness, both qualities we used to have in abundance.


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