Owen Farrell will lead England in the Six Nations finale in Rome next month and beyond, having retained the faith of Eddie Jones despite the South Africa captain, Siya Kolisi, questioning the fly-half’s state of mind before the two faced each other in the World Cup final last November.
Kolisi said on a podcast last month that he knew South Africa were going to win the moment he joined Farrell for the coin toss. England’s captain will be available to face Italy despite his red card on Saturday for a high tackle during Saracens’ defeat to Wasps, which is likely to result in a ban of up to six weeks.
“Owen Farrell did not know which side he was at,” said Kolisi, “which side was warming up, what team was he, A or B? I could see he was flustered and they arrived late at the stadium. You know when you have the feeling that there was no way they were going to beat us.”
Jones, speaking before the sending-off, dismissed the observation. “What qualifies him to make the observation is that he won and Owen lost,” the England head coach said. “Everyone is always cleverer after you win. I did not see that with Owen and have no other comment to make on Kolisi’s remarks.”
Farrell’s temperament has been a running theme throughout his career but England reached the World Cup final led by him and are favourites to win the Six Nations when it resumes towards the end of next month. That leaves Jones, who blames himself rather than his players for the defeat by the Springboks, with little appetite for change. “We haven’t decided the captaincy yet but at this stage there is no reason why it will not be Owen,” he said.
“He did a great job in the World Cup and the Six Nations. If he is fit and available for selection, there is a very good chance he will be captain. We will announce that at the appropriate time.”
Farrell looks set to be playing in the Championship next season after relegation was imposed on Saracens for breaches of the Premiership’s salary cap, as will his fellow England internationals Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly, Jamie George and the Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako.
Jones is repeatedly asked whether their presence in the second tier will have an impact on their international careers, but the extension of the Premiership season into October because of the coronavirus lockdown makes it far less of an issue, with the autumn international campaign finishing seven weeks before England go into camp for the 2021 Six Nations.
“I have had a chat with Saracens and will do so again after the autumn,” Jones said. “We have spoken to the players and everything will be based on the individuals. Someone like Mako Vunipola is 29 and has played more than 50 Tests, whereas Elliot Daly has had less rugby. Playing overseas could be an option for some.”
Jones has keenly watched the Premiership since its resumption and believes the change of emphasis at the breakdown – from referees indulging the attacking side to allowing more of a contest for possession – will help speed up England’s game.
“The job of a referee is to be an enforcer of the law,” he said. “They are not supposed to be entrepreneurs charged with creating entertaining rugby. That is the job of the performers, the players. We are starting to see a good balance between contest and continuity at the breakdown in the Premiership and that encourages players to be instinctive because they get quick ball.
“They do not have time to settle and become organised, so it gives you half-backs who can play off the speed of the ball, forwards able to run good lines and backs who can push up in support. In defences, it creates opportunities for poachers at the breakdown.”
Little expense was spared during the first four years of Jones’s reign, which began in 2015, but the pandemic has forced the Rugby Football Union to drastically cut spending and the national side will not be sheltered from the impact.
“We have to be more aware of costs,” Jones said. “It may be that there is only one dish at dinner instead of two and we will have to look at tightening the staff as well as the operational costs. We need to maximise our revenue so we have to make sure we play good rugby to make people want to become involved with England.”