Owen Farrell is steeling his Saracens teammates for their Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster by adopting Johnny Sexton’s role in training this week. Farrell is suspended for the match in Dublin on Saturday but the Saracens director of rugby, Mark McCall, has revealed how the England captain is still playing a crucial role in his side’s preparation.
Leinster – unbeaten since losing the European final against Saracens last season – were heavy favourites even before Farrell’s five-week ban for a dangerous tackle was confirmed, but while he cannot line up at the Aviva Stadium the fly-half is leading the opposition attack in training.
Sexton – well known to Farrell from two British & Irish Lions tours together – was rested for Leinster’s Pro14 final win against Ulster on Saturday but is set to return at fly-half.
“[Owen is] running the opposition against us, running some of Leinster’s plays, so he’ll be a huge help to us,” said McCall, whose side have chartered a private flight to Dublin on Friday. “He just wants to help. He regrets the situation he finds himself in but now he just wants to help the team as much as he can.
“We’ve got two choices – to move [Alex] Goode up to fly-half and play Elliot [Daly] at full-back or stick Manu [Vunipola] in there. The core of the 23 will be identifiable as a team who have played a lot of knockout rugby over the last five years. The core is very strong.”
Leinster’s James Ryan, who faces a mouthwatering head-to-head with Maro Itoje in the second row, is wary that Farrell’s absence could end up working in the favour of the defending champions. “It will galvanise them and they will be very motivated,” he said. “They have great depth and a very strong squad. They are still a massively dangerous side.”
The former Wales captain Ieuan Evans has been elected to the Welsh Rugby Union’s council, meanwhile, ousting the chairman for the past six years, Gareth Davies, after a grassroots revolt. Davies’s two three-year terms as chairman were up but he offered to stay on for another year to provide stability with the union’s chief executive, Martyn Phillips, standing down next month. Davies’s failure to be re-elected to the council means he will leave at the same time as the union grapples with mounting debts induced by the pandemic.
Evans, three times a British & Irish Lions tourist, will spend the next few days deciding whether to put himself forward for the chair, even though it is his first experience of administration having worked in the media since he retired from playing in 1998.
“I will be doing everything I can to reward the faith the clubs have shown in me,” he said. “The community game is essential to the general health and welfare of our national sport and it is on these foundations that we should build our future.”
Gloucester give fans nothing to smile about
Gloucester welcomed back spectators to Kingsholm – but the homecoming fell horribly flat as Harlequins recorded a 28-15 Gallagher Premiership victory.
The mid-table clash saw 1,000 people attend – including the Lions head coach, Warren Gatland – in a second crowd pilot venture following Quins’ game against Bath at the Twickenham Stoop this month.
The Premiership season restarted on 14 August after a five-month absence because of the coronavirus pandemic, with all fixtures apart from Quins’ and Gloucester’s selected matches being played behind closed doors.
But Gloucester suffered an acute case of stage-fright, with the fly-half Danny Cipriani gifting Quins their opening try, blowing a score for Jonny May with a forward pass, then throwing an interception pass that led to Quins’ match-clinching third try.
In contrast, the 21-year-old England hopeful Marcus Smith ran things impressively for a Quins side that never looked back following first-half tries by the wing Cadan Murley and the captain, Stephan Lewies, as they consolidated sixth place.
Smith added 11 points from the boot, while Gloucester could only manage a Cipriani penalty during a forgettable first half for the hosts. The No 8 Jake Polledri’s early second-half try, converted by Cipriani, hinted at a revival, but Quins were having none of it as Scott Steele touched down and Smith converted.
The substitute lock Mattias Alemanno then powered over for a second Gloucester try, yet there was no way back as the Kingsholm faithful witnessed a frustrating display.