England captain Owen Farrell admitted that he needed to take “a good look” at himself after receiving a five-match ban for a dangerous tackle, which leaves him heading into this Saturday’s Six Nations decider against Italy having not played in nearly two months.
The 28-year-old returns to action this weekend to potentially lead England to the Six Nations title, depending on what happens in the championship’s final game between France and Ireland, with the Saracens star, restored to fly-half in the injury-enforced absence of George Ford.
It will be the first time that Farrell has played since being sent off in Saracens’ 28-18 defeat against Wasps on 5 September for a high and dangerous tackle on opposite man Charlie Atkinson, and in the time between that unwelcome moment and the trip to Rome, Farrell has had plenty of time to reflect on his technique.
“No-one wants to be involved in an incident like that,” Farrell said. “Not for it to end up the way it did – a player getting injured and myself getting sent off.
“Obviously there was no real intent to do that. That was never what I was trying to do but at the same time that is what happened and you have a good look at yourself when that happens.
“You want to improve. In terms of technique, I want to get better. More than anything I am excited to play. I have been working on everything, not just tackling technique, which I would work on anyway. The main thing is I can’t wait to get out on the field and get playing.
“I am doing everything I can to make sure I am in the best place I possibly can be. I am in a position now where I can’t wait to play and I am looking forward to it.”
Farrell returns in the nick of time to lead England into their Six Nations decider, where they are expected to pile the points on Italy with a bonus-point victory expected to be enough to secure themselves the title as long as Ireland fail to win in Paris. But with his regular mid-field partner Ford ruled out due to an Achilles tendon issue, Farrell finds himself restored to the No 10 shirt that he has not work since the World Cup quarter-final victory over Australia, when Jones elected to deploy a beefed-up defence of Farrell, Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade to contain the threat of centre Samu Kerevi.
Jones’s decision this time around stems more from the absence of Ford and Tuilagi, though he has chosen to retain something of a dual-playmaker axis by moving Slade to inside centre, with Jonathan Joseph coming back into the starting XV after his impressive 50th outing on the wing against Ireland back in February.
Slade may be in the form of his life after helping Exeter Chiefs to their double triumph in the form of the Premiership and European Cup victories, but it is an untried and untested combination. He has only once been named at inside centre since making his debut in 2015, when deployed in the No 12 shirt outside Ford against Argentina two years ago as Farrell was given the autumn off. It is a gamble, albeit a small one if his form is anything to go by.
That said, if the trio gel together it could prove one of England’s most potent back lines in being able to free their outside men in Jonny May and Anthony Watson, who will relish the chance to attack an Italian defence that has already conceded 20 tries this year – double the most of any other side.
Farrell doesn’t have any reservations about the selection, with his mindset falling in line with Jones’s that centres are becoming more interchangeable between 12 and 13 than ever before.
“In terms of centres we do a lot of interchanging anyway,” he explained. “We try to get the best out of the best people in the best positions for any certain way we are not just playing but certain moves that we might run. It is very interchangeable and I think a lot of centres are like that these days.”