Owen Farrell: ‘It’s finishing off those chances for me that was the work-on’

Owen Farrell says that England need to work on finishing try scoring opportunities

Heading into a Test with Japan on Saturday afternoon, England captain Owen Farrell says that his team’s major work-on this week has been finishing.

Last Sunday against Japan, England scored two tries. The first came from Joe Cokanasiga coming off his wing in a scrum move, the second coming thanks to the quick thinking of scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet who saw a ruck unguarded.

An axis that included Farrell, Marcus Smith and Manu Tuilagi failed to set the world alight, the backline having had three changes made for Japan. Jonny May is back on the wing in place of Cokanasiga who is dropped entirely, Manu Tuilagi starts from the bench with Guy Porter preferred and Van Poortvliet gets a start at the expense of Ben Youngs.

Taking on a Japan side that have only grown exponentially since their win under now-England head coach Eddie Jones against South Africa in 2015, the team’s captain believes that by shining a spotlight on their finishing it will lead to a better result in two days’ time.

“It seems like everyone is talking attack from last week,” Farrell said. “It’s finishing those chances off for me that was the work-on going into this week. Being a bit calmer after we do make the breaks and seeing where the opportunity it thereafter.

“It’s not like we didn’t create opportunities in the conditions that we played in, but obviously we weren’t good enough to finish them off. The changes hopefully won’t make a difference to where we’re going with that. Hopefully they add to that which is the key.”

Under Jamie Joseph, Japan look as frightening a prospect than every before. Once the darlings of many after beating the Springboks in Brighton, at their home World Cup the tournament set the world alight and the team performed on the field by beating both of Scotland and Ireland in their pool.

Playing their first Test of the autumn two weekends ago when the All Blacks came to Tokyo, the side pushed Ian Foster’s New Zealand close. Helped in part by Brodie Retallick’s red card for a dangerous clear-out, the game finished 38-31 in favour of the tourists in front of 60,000 supporters.

With a style of play that both suffocates a team in attack and keeps them firmly on the backfoot in defence, it means that England’s issue of a week ago will have to be just that, last weeks problems.

“They move the ball a lot,” Farrell said. “They move the ball into the 15s a lot. They try to keep the ball alive; they try to play with no rucks if possible.

“They like to put attacking kicks in behind on edges. They like to come back and get you over-folding and then rip back down on the short side again. We have to be aware of all these things.”

It has been four years since England last played Japan. Hosting the team at Twickenham in 2018, Japan made life uncomfortable for 80 minutes that day and Michael Leitch again churned out a performance which explains just why the flanker is so revered in his adopted home country.

When push came to shove that day, England were able to overcome their opposition. Winning 35-15, with the time that has passed since there is little that this current group of England players can take from that performance, but with these two teams coming up against one another so rarely, there is little else to do other than do just that.

“I don’t think you have to look back to 2018 to see what Japan are capable of,” Farrell said. “We all knew what they were capable of from 2015 and then 2019 and then since. You have to look back to the game a couple of weeks ago against the All Blacks to see what they are capable of.

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“They are not a team we’ve played a whole lot, not a team we’re used to, not a team that play like everyone else. They play a distinctive, different style; high tempo, move the ball a lot more than other teams and while we’ve got to be aware of that, we’ve also got to not lose sight of what we want to be and focus on ourselves and bring the best of us to the pitch.”

Perhaps one of the keys to England getting over the line more regularly is the reintroduction of Jonny May to the squad. Feared to be out of the Autumn Nations Series campaign when apparently dislocating his elbow against London Irish while playing for Gloucester, the 32-year-old has made a miraculous recovery and was back in contention for selection last week.

When it comes to attacking threats, the wing is quite clearly England’s most potent. Currently with 35 tries to his name in an England jersey, he replaces the hulking Joe Cokanasiga in the squad in spite of the Bath man’s try scoring exploits against Argentina.

Having that searing pace that was seemingly been missing from England’s attack, Farrell has been rooming with the wing and has nothing but admiration for the way the back goes about his business.

“You know what goes into it and you see the dedication he has, then off the back of it you see the consistency that he brings and how long he’s done it for and how often he tries to get over the try line, how much it means to him,” Farrell said.

“Being his teammate and being someone who spends every day with him in these camps and seeing everything that goes into it is obviously miles more of an insight than just seeing what happens at the weekend and it makes you appreciate it even more.”

England starting XV: Freddie Steward; Jack Nowell, Guy Porter, Owen Farrell (C), Jonny May; Marcus Smith, Jack van Poortvliet; Ellis Genge, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler, David Ribbans, Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje, Tom Curry, Sam Simmonds

Replacements: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Joe Heyes, Alex Coles, Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi