Owen Farrell is enduring arguably the toughest period of his international career at the moment. The Saracens stalwart has come under fire in recent weeks as a scapegoat for England’s poor performances, with Eddie Jones’ side falling to embarrassing defeats at the hands of Scotland and Wales in quick succession.
The results have left England’s hopes of defending last year’s Six Nations victory in tatters, with their rivals on the other side of the Severn Bridge storming to the title having already scooped the Triple Crown.
The test of France, who remained unbeaten going into Saturday’s match, had the potential to turn England’s tournament from a mere disappointment into a full-blown crisis.
However, they produced a strong effort to see off the challenge and derail the charge of their opponents, fighting hard to secure a 23-20 victory at Twickenham.
Although the England skipper’s performance marked a significant improvement on his recent showings, it is clear that Jones needs to seriously consider whether he is the man to continue leading the side.
The Saracens star has been the target of considerable criticism ever since the opening day defeat to Scotland, with fans and pundits alike questioning his ability to inspire England to success after two mixed years as captain.
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His players, for the most part, failed to deal with the threat of France hero Antoine Dupont at Twickenham, who orchestrated his side’s attacking game in a way that Farrell struggled to replicate.
He is undoubtedly still a world-class player, keeping his place in the side up to now on merit, and covered every blade of grass against France with his kicking game helping his side to pip their opponents on the scoreboard.
But England could benefit from a change in on-pitch leadership if they have serious ambitions of winning the Rugby World Cup in 2023.
Much of the focus going into Saturday’s encounter centred around England’s disciplinary record, which has been shocking under Farrell’s captaincy.
Last year’s champions conceded 41 penalties in their first three Six Nations matches, with their inability to put a lid on infringements handing Wales victory in Cardiff two weeks ago.
The performance in this respect was much improved against France but the damage to their title ambitions had already been done.
Farrell’s own personal discipline is also rarely up to scratch, with the England centre known for his ‘tackles’ in the form of shoulder charges that often serve as red card magnets.
Handing the captaincy to another player would provide a new perspective, enabling Jones’ side to mount a fresh approach to the way they play.
The move would also lift some of the responsibility that has plagued Farrell’s efforts as of late.
He currently finds himself playing the combined role of captain, playmaker and media poster boy, with a new skipper able to take on some of the burden.
This would allow Farrell to allocate a greater focus to improving his game between now and the next World Cup, where he is likely to play a pivotal role in his country’s fortunes.
England great Lawrence Dallaglio suggested earlier this month that Maro Itoje or Jamie George would be more effective as captain than Farrell, highlighting the fact that the most successful sides in rugby history have had a forward as their leading man.
This could be a switch that has the potential to galvanise the squad, with the new skipper having plenty of time to settle in before getting a shot at World Cup glory in two years’ time.
Although Farrell managed to help England to an improved performance for the visit of France, it remains to be seen whether he has the ability to recover their form on a long-term basis.
The grass could be greener on the other side for Jones if he decides to revisit Farrell’s role once the Six Nations is over.