"Fuse Waiting to Go Off" - Ex-England Winger James Simpson-Daniel Talks On Owen Farrell's Discipline - Ruck

“Fuse Waiting to Go Off” – Ex-England Winger James Simpson-Daniel Talks On Owen Farrell’s Discipline

Former England winger James Simpson-Daniel has had his say on Owen Farrell’s suspension, that will see the England captain miss out on the first two Rugby World Cup pool stage matches. England take on Argentina this Saturday, before meeting the Brave Blossoms of Japan next Sunday, 17th September.

A dejected Owen Farrell of England applauds in the direction of the England supporters at full-time following the Guinness Six Nations match between England and France at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on Saturday 11th March 2023 | Photo: James Fearn/PPAUK.

Farrell is currently serving a four match ban, after a high tackle offence in England’s home victory against Wales at Twickenham. Farrell’s shoulder made contact with the head of Wales back-rower Taine Basham, in a dangerous offence that saw the fly half banned for England’s Summer Series defeats against Ireland and Fiji. Simpson-Daniel stated how Farrell resembles a “fuse waiting to go off”, and how Sale Sharks halfback George Ford will likely lead the way in his absence.

Speaking to OLBG, Simpson-Daniel said: “He (Owen Farrell) is a very physical player and very passionate. What I’m struggling with is his repeat offenders. That’s not the first high tackle we’ve seen from him. It’s almost subconscious. Is it the default? You struggle to wonder why he doesn’t realise he has to bend his back and go lower. He is a fuse waiting to go off perhaps and could easily be carded again.

“(Sir) Clive Woodward used to have several leaders to counter that prospect. There was Johnno (Wilkinson), Lawrence (Dallaglio), (Phil) Vickery, Richard Hill, (Matt) Dawson or (Will) Greenwood. It’s a big statement from Borthwick to name Farrell as captain at the World Cup.

“The pressure is always then to start your captain. That could be a problem in itself? Should Owen Farrell actually be starting? People are asking whether Marcus Smith should be starting at fly half or Ford. A lot of people are saying Farrell should not be starting and it should be Smith, with Ollie Lawrence and Tuilagi in the centres.”

Simpson-Daniel was unimpressed by how Farrell’s red card was handled, in what he believes was a rather straightforward procedure was dealt with poorly. The former Kingsholm stalwart commended Farrell on how he went about the citation situation, following the historic first ‘bunker’ review at Twickenham Stadium.

“The whole process was shambolic in the way it was handled. The second I saw it, it was red. Had they given him a ban then people would have got on with it. The fact he was cleared when he clearly should not have been, (and) then overruled. It was so shoddy.

“And who was ultimately hung out to dry? Farrell. Farrell didn’t make the decision. He made the decision with a bad tackle but he wasn’t arguing. He was ready to take his medicine from the off.”

The former Gloucester man seems set in his thoughts that Ford will wear the number 10 jersey, when England run out against Los Pumas this Saturday in Marseille. Simpson-Daniel sees the Sale man as the best viable candidate, due to his proven history of success under Borthwick. Despite suffering an injury that paved the way for Freddie Burn’s career-defining drop goal, Ford was instrumental in Leicester Tigers’ 2022 Premiership winning campaign, and served diligently under Borthwick at Welford Road.

“I suspect it will be Ford. Borthwick wants the man he knows, surrounding himself with people he knows and trusts.” Simpson-Daniel added. “From what I’m told George runs the training sessions, Borthwick trusts him implicitly. I wonder whether Farrell getting that ban could have been the best thing for England in terms of Smith getting let loose, controlling the game. He clearly lives off energy.

George Ford of England during the England Rugby Training Sessions at The Lensbury Hotel, Teddington, London on 8 August 2023 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

“Fly halves need their bread and butter. What is that? It is your restarts, your goal kicks, kicking to touch, bossing the calls. You have to remember when Smith was fly half and Farrell at inside centre, Farrell was doing all that. Everything was revolving around how Farrell saw things.

“That felt to me like you were putting a ball and chain around Smith. You want Smith to be elusive and do what he does at Harlequins, make the calls, back himself. He offers you something different. It seems like he’s going to be a bench player and being told to try and go on and do something if we are losing.

Marcus Smith of England during the Summer Nations Series Rugby match between Wales and England at Principality Stadium on August 5, 2023 in Cardiff, Wales. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

Borthwick has been issued the challenge of getting the best out of three world-class fly halves, in an ongoing selection saga between Farrell, Ford and Marcus Smith. The latest chapter saw Borthwick trial Smith as a fullback, as he replaced Freddie Steward in the back-three throughout the 2023 Summer Nations Series. The outcome saw mixed results, with Smith shining with an initial try against Fiji, but faltered as England fell apart against the Pacific Islanders.

“I don’t think he is a fullback. I just think he is a very good fly half.” Simpson-Daniel continued. “I would give him (Ollie) Lawrence and Manu (Tuilagi) in the centres, and put a back three around him, and let him use his vision to choose the right option.

“Borthwick will start with Ford but I think it should be Smith. I would have Malins and Daly on the wings and Steward at fullback. Malins and Daly could cover at fullback. I wouldn’t have Smith anywhere near there (fullback).”

Simpson-Daniel continued to discuss his thoughts on how well England will do in the upcoming trip to France. The 41-year-old does not want to count out Borthwick’s side, despite what has been a turbulent run up to the Rugby World Cup. The ex-Cherry and Whites man called on England’s recent first ever defeat to Fiji as a low point, but understands the small margins of success needed to push on to the latter stages of this year’s lop-sided tournament.

“They might not get out of the group. Looking at the form, why would you think they could? The gap between the supposed top nations and those in the so-called Tier Two has clearly been bridged.

“However if you’re England, you’d think we sit a little above those and have the capability to beat them in a close match.

“Don’t give up on England yet. People might say I’m mad but when you break it down into small plays it doesn’t take a lot to top the group and get into a semi-final and that’s unbelievable really!”

“Two of the top four in the world aren’t going to make it to the semi-final. That is incredible. How can that be right?

“But from an England perspective, it’s an incredibly disappointing Australia side. Wales will be having their own jitters and New Zealand are wobbling. The only ones happy with where they are, are France and Ireland and maybe South Africa.”

“We have had several years of stumbling along. As a former player, to see it (England’s defeat to Fiji) is very disheartening. What was really deflating after the Fiji game was the fact those conditions should have suited us. They should have totally been against Fiji. And they have come to Twickenham and won reasonably easily.

“Fiji played all the rugby in the conditions, their set piece held up and they have at last found a goal kicker. They covered us off in all areas which was why it was so deflating.”

After his appointment to the Head Coach role ahead of the 2023 Six Nations, Steve Borthwick has only been able to secure three wins whilst in charge of England (Italy and Wales twice). This comes after nine matches, for an underwhelming win rate of 33.3% ahead of the Rugby World Cup. However, Simpson-Daniel believes that the problems began when Eddie Jones was sacked at the end of the 2022 Autumn Nations Series, with Borthwick issued the impossible task of turning the side around.

“Let’s go back to where this all really started, to Eddie Jones moving on, the timing of his departure. Eddie always said ‘judge me on my World Cups’ and in fairness to him, he got us to the final in 2019. So you either hang your hat on what he says, and stick with him.

Eddie Jones, Head Coach of England during the Autumn Nations International Series match between England and South Africa at Twickenham, London on 26 November 2022 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“But on the other side of the coin our performances were so bad, so disappointing that I can see why the RFU felt they had to do what they did. If he was coming second in the Six Nations then ok, but this has the potential to be the worst World Cup for England of all time. The RFU felt they couldn’t really do anything else. What I didn’t like about it was the timing. You either allow him to have his whole World Cup cycle then ship him on, or you get rid of him earlier.

“Borthwick has been thrown into the role and it was an almost impossible thing to take on. He’s going to go into the World Cup with nothing to lose. Even if we don’t get out of the group you can’t hang ‘Borthers’ out to dry and get rid of him. The RFU chucked him in, said, ‘Go on mate, it’s down to you. Our form is cr*p, you’ve got a group of players, some of whom are too old, some of whom are youngsters  who haven’t had a real chance, and make it happen.’

Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England Rugby during the England Rugby Captains Run ahead of the Six Nations Match between Wales and England at Principality Stadium, London on 24 Feb 2023 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“He is an impossible position for a relatively inexperienced coach. He should not be hung out if things go wrong in France.”