Owen Farrell’s character “integral” to the formation of Steve Borthwick’s England

Owen Farrell is "integral" to the formation of this New England side according to head coach Steve Borthwick
©David Howlett

After announcing that Owen Farrell will be England’s captain after unveiling his first 36-man England squad as head coach, Steve Borthwick says that the 31-year-old’s character is “integral” to the development of his team moving forward.

On Monday morning, the new England coach announced a squad with a number of uncapped players amongst it, some recalls and omitted a group of players which has been a key part of squads in recent memory.

The uncapped contingent includes wings Cadan Murley and Ollie Hassell-Collins, fly-half Fin Smith and hookers Jack Walker and George McGuigan, some of whom have had involvements with the national team in the past and may well be presented with opportunities in the weeks to come.

There is a recall following injury during the Autumn Nations Series for Courtney Lawes, while 95 cap tighthead prop Dan Cole is recalled, as is ben Curry, Alex Dombrandt, Nick Isiekwe, Elliot Daly, Dan Kelly, Max Malins and Joe Marchant.

There are several high profile omissions from this England squad too. Saracens No. 8 Billy Vunipola is left out of the squad along with Gloucester’s Jonny May and Exeter Chiefs’ jack Nowell, that trio bringing with them 180 Test caps, the new man at the helm of English rugby looking to create a team in his own image as the 2023 Rugby World Cup approaches.

With just 19 days until England’s opening game of the Guinness Six Nations against Scotland in the Calcutta Cup, it is a finite amount time of the group to get aligned and to lead the side he has picked Owen Farrell as the person to captain the side.

When asked, Borthwick declined to answer whether or not the Saracens player will start at fly-half for England, instead choosing to focus on the relatively short preparation he and the group will have for the Six Nations.

In his opening statements that morning, Borthwick spoke about wanting to create an England side which fans wanted to support, a side which wants to win, and in Farrell, England certainly have a winner.

He is abrasive and unwavering, having taken his club side to numerous Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup titles in years gone by, and will be supported by Ellis Genge and Courtney Lawes, who will be vice captains moving forward.

When asked how important his captain was to the character of the team that Borthwick wants to create, the Cumbrian says that the 100-cap international is a major part of what he is trying to create.

“He is integral to it,” Borthwick said. “You have also got a real complimentary style with Courtney and Ellis; you have got people who drive standards, drive competitiveness, want to win.”

Earlier in the day, Borthwick had also outlined the virtues of his two vice captains. Recounting a story of Ellis Genge travelling to several different tables at lunch time to sit with each one of his teammates, while Lawes is more laidback and capable of being intimidating to his opposition and his mere presence making those in the same colour jersey stand a little taller.

But while Genge and Lawes will certainly have an influence, eyes will be on Farrell more consistently. Having seen Farrell grow as a rugby player, as a leader and a person over the past decade and a half, Borthwick is more than well placed to speak about how the British and Irish Lion has grown as a leader over the years.

“He has evolved,” Borthwick said. “He has always been that incredibly competitive, driving character. Always. But he has added more layers to his leadership and I saw that when I was here with England as assistant coach.

“I saw him evolving as a leader and picking traits up off Dylan [Hartley], which he was very good at. They worked together as a leadership group.

“I’ve seen it evolving from a distance and whenever I’ve chatted to anyone who has played with Owen, that have always talked about how he has helped them to be better players, because of the way he is.

“It’s been the same since I came back in. I’ve chatted to all the players and they’ve all been very complimentary about Owen’s leadership.”

A ringing endorsement will have gone a long way to Farrell being able to lead his country once again, but there is the black cloud surrounding his ban for a dangerous tackle which has certainly agitated some.

Following a citing for a challenge in Saracens’ win over Gloucester two weekends ago, Farrell was banned for four games, with one of those knocked off if the England international took place in World Rugby’s “tackle school”.

There is nothing hugely amiss there, but in the RFU release outlining the ban, England games were not included. As such, Farrell’s ban would come to an end against Bristol Bears in two weekends’ time, just a week before the Six Nations opener against Scotland at the start of February.

With selected England players not generally considered for selection by their clubs the week prior to the Six Nations getting underway, a debate surrounding the viability of the disciplinary process began to heat up online.

On Saturday afternoon the RFU told reporters that they had “written to Saracens confirming the availability of Owen Farrell for the Saracens game against Bristol Bears on 28 January”.

An unprecedented move, the union confirmed there and then that Farrell would be available to take on Scotland on Saturday 4 February after having completed the World Rugby Coaching Intervention Programme.

“I know there has been a period of uncertainty around Owen’s availability,” Borthwick said in his opening statement. “I was informed unequivocally by the RFU’s legal department on Friday that Owen would be available for the first game of the Six Nations, England vs Scotland.

“Owen is currently serving a four match suspension, reduced to three matches on completion of a World Rugby coaching intervention course. Owen accepts that suspension and can’t wait to be back on the field.”

In essence, it puts an end to the whole debate for now. There is little doubt that Farrell will be the man leading England out of the tunnel in three weekend’s time and take his country on a journey which will culminate in a Rugby World Cup across the English Channel.

England Six Nations Squad

Forwards: Ollie Chessum, Dan Cole, Ben Curry, Alex Dombrandt, Ben Earl, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Joe Heyes, Jonny Hill, Nick Isiekwe, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, George McGuigan, Bevan Rodd, Sam Simmonds, Kyle Sinckler, Mako Vunipola, Jack Walker, Jack Willis

Backs: Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, Tommy Freeman, Ollie Hassell-Collins, Dan Kelly, Max Malins, Joe Marchant, Alex Mitchell, Cadan Murley, Henry Slade, Fin Smith, Marcus Smith, Freddie Steward, Manu Tuilagi, Jack van Poortvliet, Ben Youngs