Six Notions: Owen Farrell is the new Jonny with question marks

Powered by article titled “Six Notions: Owen Farrell is the new Jonny – with question marks” was written by Dean Ryan, for The Observer on Saturday 11th February 2012 20.39 UTC

1 Under Lancaster, England are still cold starters

England’s players could not have anticipated that Rome would look like Greenland and the first Six Nations game at the Stadio Olimpico was an ordeal for both sides. And again England were sterile for 40 minutes. England need to be precise, with a flat midfield and pace on the outside. But they did not have that in the first half. One problem was at the lineout. In the first half England only won two of nine balls off the top of the lineouts and they lost two lineouts in attacking positions. I feel for Tom Palmer, who calls the lineouts and for the second successive week was replaced by Geoff Parling after the break. You are under pressure for the first 40 minutes when you are calling lineout rather like an opening batsman. After the break England won faster ball from there but before the interval the midfield was not precise enough and the front five forwards were not effectively coming around the corner from lineouts. England won a difficult match but they are still lacking that combination of pace and power.

2 England are struggling with a high-tempo game

Ben Youngs is becoming a victim of this first-half malaise. The scrum‑half is looking out of sorts. He was obviously frustrated at being taken off and replaced by Lee Dickson but the Northampton player lifts the tempo and takes more risks and England looked more effective once Dickson had come on, as did Ben Morgan who rampaged up the field a soon as he had those large cold hands on the ball. The dilemma for England to solve is how to integrate Youngs into a high-tempo game that we know he is capable of playing. But he, Tom Palmer and Phil Dowson, who was much better in Rome, are being dragged down by the pragmatic style that England adopted for the first half in Rome and the first 40 minutes at Murrayfield.

3 The defensive breakdown may be a problem

England have cut down the stupid penalties that scarred the World Cup. On the surface that can only be a good thing. But at defensive breakdowns they are not pouring in men to contest the ball. Instead they are building a white wall across the park and this balance means the opposition are allowed to play multi-phase rugby. So while not conceding a penalty for the first 40 minutes will warm the heart of Stuart Lancaster, if the opposition win quick ball from the breakdown they will trouble England. The white wall may not be enough against better sides than Italy and Wales, France and Ireland will look to dominate the breakdown, which is such an important area in modern rugby, in the coming weeks. The breakdown is king and Italy kicked too much when they won the ball from there. England will have to change their tactics against these better sides.

4 Alex Corbisiero is growing into his job

Only a year ago the London Irish prop was a late replacement for Andrew Sheridan against Italy. He didn’t let England down then and on Saturday he had probably his best game in an England shirt, coping with the fearsome Martin Castrogiovanni just as he had against Euan Murray at Murrayfield a week earlier. There has never been a question mark against Corbisiero in the loose but there has one about his scrummaging. Corbisiero lost the initial two or three encounters with Leicester’s Argentinian but, to his credit, he worked out a strategy. The younger man solved his problem by dropping his height across his backs and hips and for the 10 minutes before the Italian tighthead left the field holding his ribs, Corbisiero was giving him a lot of trouble. Italy were never the same after that and the scrum had become a powerful weapon for this England team who have two young props learning quickly about the intensity of international rugby.

5 Owen Farrell is an old head on very young shoulders

Owen Farrell has incredible strength of mind to land five kicks from five in such terrible conditions. There are, though, questions marks about this midfield combination. In Farrell’s attacking game there was not a lot to criticise but there was not a lot to be positive about either. The dilemma for Lancaster is what to do when the likes of Toby Flood and Manu Tuilagi are back. Farrell’s kicking prowess means that he is becoming almost indispensable and, like a certain Jonny Wilkinson, dragging England through to victories when they are not playing that well. If he is landing all his kicks you begin to look at the players around him and Brad Barritt could end up being the player who loses out.

6 Italy are still searching for the new Diego Domínguez

Italy have their usual problem at half-back. England would not have won if they had had the two Italian half-backs. Italy need a combination to help harness the power of their pack and bring some promising young backs into the game. Kris Burton stands too deep to be effective and if their coach really wants to expand their game Tobias Botes, who stands flatter, may be the better option. But those two awful shanked kicks by Botes would not have helped his cause and Italy were left in the cold again.

Dean Ryan played for England, Wasps and Newcastle and coached Gloucester in the Premiership

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