The 2018 Six Nations was one to forget for England and Eddie Jones but Owen Farrell can be crucial in a bid for vengeance.
England headed into last year’s competition on the back of consecutive Six Nations triumphs, having only been denied a second straight Grand Slam by a final-weekend defeat to Ireland.
But that status as pre-tournament favorite proved well wide of the mark, with Jones’ men routing Italy and scraping past Wales before losing their last three to Scotland, France and Ireland.
That was the start of a six-match losing streak in 2018, before England finished the year strongly with four wins out of five, the only blot a narrow 16-15 defeat to world champion New Zealand at Twickenham.
England will go from the hunted to the hunters against Ireland in its opening game in Dublin on Saturday, but Omnisport looks at why the dangerous Farrell can be pivotal in the bid for Six Nations glory.
#IREvENG | days to go…#CarryThemHome pic.twitter.com/OR9L4icib8
TIME TO FLY AT 10?
One of Farrell’s biggest strengths, but perhaps also a frustration to himself, is his versatility. The Saracens star is one of the best fly-halves in the world but has largely featured at inside center under Jones as part of a 10-12 axis with George Ford. However, in last year’s November internationals Farrell was utilized in his most effective position in wins over South Africa and Australia, and the narrow loss to the All Blacks. Farrell now appears more likely to start at 12 against Ireland after Ben Te’o was ruled out through injury, but it remains a possibility that England’s captain takes the No. 10 jersey.
Farrell is a natural leader in the squad and acted as co-captain with Dylan Hartley for the November Tests. However, with Hartley ruled out of the Ireland clash with a knee injury Farrell is set to be sole skipper, providing he is fit after a minor thumb operation, and will have the chance to stake his claim for the armband permanently. Farrell demands high standards from those around him and leads by example on the field. The chance to captain England to a Six Nations triumph is sure to be a huge motivator.
SETTING A WORLD CUP MARKER
Four years ago, Farrell was part of an England squad that suffered a humiliating pool-stage exit at the Rugby World Cup – becoming the first home nation to crash out in the groups. It was that poor showing that prompted the sacking of Stuart Lancaster and the appointment of Jones. With the next World Cup taking place in Japan later this year, England will be chomping at the bit to head into the tournament with plenty of momentum and Farrell will be desperate to be the catalyst for doing so.
Countdown to #IREvENG #CarryThemHome pic.twitter.com/IPkfCSv9sl
Six Nations 2019: Team-by-team guide
BIG HITTERS BACK
England has had its fair share of injury problems, with Billy Vunipola missing the entire 2018 Six Nations and the November internationals, while brother Mako was also absent for the latter fixtures. Powerhouse Manu Tuilagi has been blighted by injury throughout his career, and Joe Launchbury missed out in November as well. But all four are in the 25-man squad retained for the Ireland game and England is sure to pack more of a punch with them on the pitch, which should help to create the gaps for Farrell to exploit.
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