By Ossian Shine
England coach Stuart Lancaster broke into a pained rictus on Saturday night as he picked over the wreckage of an England performance which severly dented the hosts’ dreams of World Cup glory.
His grimace came as close to a smile as anyone in the England camp will crack in coming days. Having dominated for an hour, they were undone by indiscipline and poor decision making, falling 28-25 to a Welsh team which had looked on its last legs.
Needless infringements; sloppy play, the lessons to be learned are plentiful.
But while the mood in the camp is one of disappointment and introspection — “the boys are absolutely gutted” according to Lancaster — if any white-shirted player can allow himself a private sense, if not smile, of satisfaction it is Owen Farrell.
On a night of such World Cup frustration against an obdurate Welsh side, the flyhalf stood out as a goliath, vindicating Lancaster’s faith in him, while all around had criticised his recall in place of the perceived more attacking threat of George Ford.
Farrell had been selected for his robust physical presence, and for his phenomenal kicking skills, and both were on glorious show for England.
“I though Owen Farrell had a great game,” Lancaster said, and there would have been few dissenters in the crowd.
What sent the hosts’ fans home in frustration and disappointment was not missed kicks or tackles, nor was it a lack of any creativity — the main accusation levelled at Farrell by supporters of his friend and rival Ford.
What undid England, and saw them lose a game they should logically have tied up well before the thrilling denouement, was the senseless indiscipline at the breakdown.
Time and again the Welsh were handed needless penalties, a succession of three-pointers which stopped England from killing them off with Farrell’s laser-accurate kicking.
“Games are won and lost on these moments. We’ve got to look at our decision-making. We were giving away penalties,” Lancaster said dolefully.
Farrell lining up a kick is a curious sight. His head, chin down, moves from low to high repeatedly as he imagines the track of the ball sailing between the posts. Low to high, low to high, his head moves robotically, eyes burning.
They call it visualisation technique — imagining an outcome vividly to enhance your ability to succeed. In his mind, Farrell draws a line from the ball to the spot he wants to hit, over and over again.
On Saturday, Farrell drew dozens of those lines, while blocking out the white-heat intensity of the 81,000 Twickenham crowd.
In all, he kicked 20 points via five penalties, a drop goal and a conversion and threw in a series of biting, telling tackles.
Had captain Chris Robshaw given him the chance for a final shot at goal two minutes from time, to level the scores at 28-all, it might well have been Farrell, rather than opposite number Dan Biggar, who took the man of the match honours.
It was not to be, but he had already done more than enough to vindicate his selection — and perhaps to warrant a place on the pitch for the crunch clash with Australia next Saturday.
It is a must-win game for England, Lancaster said.
England need a giant performance. You can be sure Farrell is picturing it already.