England captain Owen Farrell told to change tackle technique before Six Nations

Owen Farrell tackles South Africa’s Andre Esterhuizen (Adam Davy/PA) (PA Archive)
Owen Farrell tackles South Africa’s Andre Esterhuizen (Adam Davy/PA) (PA Archive)

Owen Farrell has been told he must adjust his tackle technique after being entrusted with the England captaincy for the Six Nations.

Farrell will complete a reduced three-match ban for a dangerous challenge in time to lead Steve Borthwick’s team into their Championship opener against Scotland at Twickenham on February 4.

Borthwick has dismissed the controversy generated by Farrell’s availability given that the final match of his suspension has been allocated to Saracens’ clash with Bristol on January 28, a fixture he would never have played in because of its proximity to the Six Nations.

Instead, England’s new head coach has said it is his responsibility to pick the best available players having been given the green light by the Rugby Football Union to use his former Saracens team-mate against Scotland.

But the nature of Farrell’s high tackle on Gloucester’s Jack Clement is the latest example of his suspect technique and has not gone unnoticed by Borthwick and his number two Kevin Sinfield, the defence coach.

“Right across the sport we know we need to change. Owen fully accepts he needs to change and is willing to work extremely hard at it,” Borthwick said.

“Anybody who worked with me at Leicester will know how hard we went after tackle height. I think for the pair of us, and the coaching team, we believe it’s the best way to tackle.

“We will work hard right from day one on tackle height within our squad. We are not shying away from the fact that the game has to change. Our elite players will need to make some adjustments.”

England have 19 days until they face a Scotland side they have not beaten at Twickenham since 2017 and Borthwick faces the challenge of rebuilding belief and direction after the troubled autumn that ended Eddie Jones’ reign.

With time limited and foundations needing to be laid, the game plan will initially be simplified in the quest to revive fortunes.

“As an England supporter watching those autumn series games I was gutted,” Borthwick said.

Owen Farrell (Ben Whitley/PA) (PA Wire)
Owen Farrell (Ben Whitley/PA) (PA Wire)

“The reality is that in the autumn series, when the pressure came on and things went wrong, or got challenged, the team did not have the clarity to move forward and that’s a point the players have said to me many times.

“The players need clarity on how they’re going to play. They need to have the courage to play to their strengths on the field and fight in every single contest.

“We will make tactical changes, we will improve tactically over a period of time, but fundamentally we need to go out onto that field against a Scotland team coming here with a lot of confidence and we need to fight.

“I’m not going to be a coach who sits here and starts talking about time, or injuries, or availability. I have got the opportunity to coach the England rugby team.

“I have got some fantastic players who are desperate to do well, desperate to build a team that we can all be proud of.”

Unafraid to drop big names who were regular picks under Jones, Borthwick has jettisoned Billy Vunipola, Jack Nowell and Jonny May, but there are recalls for Dan Cole and Elliot Daly.

Cole was dropped by England after the 2019 World Cup final, a reaction to the team’s dismal scrummaging performance, while Daly has been frozen out since last year’s Six Nations despite his superb form for Saracens.