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The Jon Fox Fend Was Good . . . But The Owen Farrell Smash Shook Up The First Autumn Offering

It’s claimed in some quarters than rugby is going soft. No-one seems to have told Owen Farrell, though. Harri Morgan looks at the England man Wales will run into again in the Six Nations and whether Eddie Jones can continue to risk the mentality he brings to the red rose.

It’s about time I admitted it. I can’t consume two games of rugby simultaneously – yet. I will persist.

The opening Saturday of the autumn internationals was enjoyed with Wales v Scotland on the big box. The year’s fourth instalment of England v South Africa, consigned to the tablet.

If this piece was to be proportionate to the attention to which I attributed each game then it would be heavily weighted in favour of the Doddie Weir Cup.

It might focus on a resurgent Dan Lydiate, the glory that is the Jon ‘Fox’ fend or an analysis of how a Welsh defence had nullified a much hyped Scottish stand-off for the second time this calendar year.

Alas, some 15 minutes after the final whistle in Cardiff any talking points from the Principality Stadium were washed from any rugby-orientated Twitter feed by goings on in the closing stages at Twickenham.

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With the time piece in the red, South Africa’s Andre Esterhuizen set off on a horizontal trajectory, back straight and knees pumping. Just like the chunky kid in mini rugby, he looked ready to render the experience of the next human with whom he made contact a miserable one.

Instead, he was laid out on the Twickenham turf by a shoulder full of Northern Soul.

Twickenham rejoiced. The TMO intervened.

Angus Gardner and Ben Whitehouse came together, they deliberated over the footage, before bilaterally agreeing that the Wiganer had done enough with his arms for them to deem the tackle legal.

Twickenham rejoiced. Twitter went berserk.

The letter of the law gang and the movement against rugby going soft (MARGS) went at it. My interest quickly dwindled, for a war of opinion is likely infinite in duration.

Of greater intrigue to me was not the legality of the tackle, more whether Eddie Jones can reconcile a moment that exposed his side to such a level of undue risk. Particularly with a World Cup, fast approaching.

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Is he willing to brush it off as an unfortunate but acceptable by-product of a ferocious mentality that has done far more good than harm?

Conversely, does he need to reinforce upon his co-skip the responsibility inherent in the mandate of a Test match leader?

The defensive play ran to the core of what Owen Farrell is. To call it a competitive streak is simplistic – and ignorant of the fact that this is a characteristic prevalent in most, if not all of his peers.

Farrell is different, his relationship with winning comes across more as an obsession, psychopathic perhaps.

As children, his team-mates probably entered the land of nod enchanted by Roy of the Rovers-type fairytales.

Meanwhile, father Farrell was imparting on young Owen the harsh reality of the pursuit of victory. Less so, the last minute overhead kick, more the non-negotiable deeds of effort-laden brutality from which success is derived.

The final act at Twickenham yesterday embodied story time at Chez Faz. Non-negotiable brutality. Win at all costs.

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Let us not get carried away. Whilst revelling in a persona that provides England with an upside ‘edge’, Eddie would do well to remember the downside.

The decision at the crux of the debate was more a matter of perception than fact.

Next time the perception and the subsequent decision might not fall in England’s favour. The fist pumps and sweet tasting beer could so easily have been heads in hands and swigs of sorrow.

Next time the stakes might be higher.

If the risk appetite of former Goldman Sachs board member, Eddie Jones, dictates that he cannot accommodate the extremities of his playmaker’s battleground ethos, then he must be smart in his approach to adjustment.

The Aussie coach’s purported man-management skill will need to be exercised with precision, to fuse additional particles of discipline to the Saracen’s explosive atomic structure, in a manner that doesn’t dilute the positive force of Farrell’s mentality.

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