By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – He wasn’t captain, allowed George Ford to continue goalkicking, didn’t score any points and played only 40 minutes, but Owen Farrell was the key to England turning a 15-10 deficit into a 35-15 victory over Japan on Saturday.
Farrell came on for the second half, replacing Alex Lozowski at inside centre, and the influence of his famed winning mentality was almost palpable at Twickenham.
Others, including official co-captain Dylan Hartley and prop Kyle Sinckler, also brought some second-half focus to England as they finally held on to the ball and gradually took a stranglehold on a game they had been chasing in the first half.
But was Farrell who was central to the change of attitude that coach Eddie Jones and Ford both said was necessary.
“Owen Farrell made a massive difference and that’s what he’s there for,” said Ford. “I’m disappointed that it had to come to that, but that’s why replacements are there, they swung the game our way.”
Jones said: “The attitude was better and we played like England in the second half.”
England’s World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward felt the introduction of Farrell was “absolutely key”.
“He immediately raised the intensity levels and everybody around him responded, as they always do,” he wrote in the Mail on Sunday.
“The majority of the 80,000 England fans started breathing a bit more easily. From the moment of Farrell’s arrival there was only going to be one result and they won the second half 25-0 against a really talented Japanese side. There was a lot to enjoy about that second half — not least the tackling and defensive work.”
Former British and Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan agreed. “If that game proved one thing, it was that England just are not the same team without Owen Farrell,” he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. “He was on the pitch for only half the game, but he was my man of the match.
“The most valuable lesson Eddie Jones will have learned is that England aren’t good enough without him. This has to be a concern for England. What happens if Farrell gets injured on the eve of the World Cup?”
On the plus side Jones will have been pleased by the display of 21-year-old winger Joe Cokanasiga, who showed good decision-making to set-up Danny Care’s opening try and completed a satisfying debut by scoring himself late in the second half.
Jack Nowell looked more comfortable on the wing than during the experiment of having him at outside centre, though he remains an emergency option should it be needed in England’s seemingly endless search for a settled midfield combination.
Almost certainly out of that equation, however is Lozowski, who will already be planning his return to Saracens next weekend as the chances of him being involved against Australia, or possibly any future games under Jones, look unlikely.
Jones is quick to make up his mind about players and rarely changes it. Lozowski made no attacking impact, was left beating the Twickenham turf in frustration after opposite number Ryoto Nakamura shrugged off his tackle to score Japan’s first try and watched the second-half comeback from the bench.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Amlan Chakraborty)