Former England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson believes “ruthless” Owen Farrell has the “leadership quality” that England need in World Cup year.
Second-half performances against Wales and Scotland, in which half-time leads were surrendered in both games, cost England the Six Nations title this year.
Head coach Eddie Jones spoke about the mental fragility of his side after they shipped 38 unanswered points to Scotland last month and the common denominator to the two halves that cost England dearly was that captain Farrell played poorly in both.
Jones’ decision to take off Farrell with 10 minutes to go against Scotland felt significant in a World Cup year.
But Wilkinson, who famously kicked the extra-time drop goal to win England the World Cup in 2003, supports the current England fly-half.
“He has a leadership quality, he has a real conviction about how he sees the game, he has openness outside of the game to learn but when he’s on the field he’s pretty ruthless,” said Wilkinson, speaking at an event where he and former France scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili were taking part in snow rugby in La Plagne.
“That’s kind of what guys look for – a guy that listens – but, when it comes to decision-making time, he makes the decision and there’s no grey about it, ‘this is what we’re doing, this is how we’re going to do it’.”
England captain Owen Farrell (left) in action during the Six Nations defeat away to Wales (David Davies/PA Images).England’s shortcomings against Wales in the second half in Cardiff, where they squandered a 10-3 lead to lose 21-13, opened the door for Warren Gatland’s team to win the Six Nations and complete the Grand Slam.
Wilkinson sees parallels between the current Wales side and his World Cup-winning England of 2003. But with the World Cup in Japan just five months away, he insists Wales cannot afford to think the hard work is done.
“You look at this Wales team and our England team in 2003 and you know they’ve won how many games on the trot now and they’ve won a grand slam in World Cup year, which means they’ve gone unbeaten for what has to be a year and now they’re heading in to the World Cup. You’re kind of like there is a parallel,” he said.
“For me it’s important that they did it but it’s only as important as they make it. The problem is that you feel like you’ve somehow deep down, you’ve somehow done a lot of the work already – none of the work’s been done.
“If you carry on willing to do the work then what’s happened before matters, if you stop and rest on what’s happened then what’s happened suddenly falls away very, very quickly.”
Ireland had high hopes heading into the Six Nations but defeats to England and Wales saw them finish third. However, Wilkinson has warned against writing off the Irish at the World Cup.
“Ireland are dangerous as ever and we’ve seen that. One season or one group of games doesn’t change anything,” said Wilkinson, who trained a couple of times with England at Jones’ request during the Six Nations as well as working as a kicking consultant for them.
“What it does do is put Ireland back in that bracket of backs against the wall – everyone’s doubting you a little bit now and that’s the worst Irish team you ever want to play against.
“What they need to do is find a way to make sure it comes out at the right moments. They’re certainly not off the charts that’s for sure.”
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