"I Don’t Think He Is Done in an England Shirt" - Dylan Hartley Believes Owen Farrell Will Return To England Squad - Ruck

“I Don’t Think He Is Done in an England Shirt” – Dylan Hartley Believes Owen Farrell Will Return To England Squad

A day doesn’t tend to pass in the international rugby landscape, without a discussion regarding the present or future status of the England number 10 jersey. Arguably the most talked about position on the test match scene, there has been an interesting fallout following the international departure of Racing-bound Owen Farrell.

When the Saracen stepped away from the role of England skipper, the doors opened up to the fly half power struggle for the 2024 Six Nations. An unexpected calf injury to Marcus Smith thinned England’s ranks ahead of the campaign, and George Ford has since secured the mantle with impressive performances against Italy and Wales. Fin Smith has patiently bided his time, and made his England debut against the Azzurri, for a cameo appearence off the bench in Rome.

However, the most recent squad update sees Marcus Smith recalled to the England squad to continue his rehab. Steve Borthwick has previously spoken about how the goal is to get the Harlequin back on the pitch for the closing rounds of the tournament, with Smith’s sights either set on Ireland or France next month. Former England captain Dylan Hartley expected Fin Smith’s arrival, and is excited to see the young Northampton talent flourish in Borthwick’s squad. Speaking to Instant Casino ahead of the England vs Italy match, Hartley said;

“Marcus Smith going down and Owen Farrell not available gives Fin Smith his chance. Italy is the perfect game for George Ford to start, control the game, get England in front and then for Fin to emerge. An example of that was Alex Mitchell who didn’t make the World Cup squad initially and then became England’s number one scrum half. Fin could do the same.

“This is Steve’s first time to judge him properly. This is not Eddie’s team now, he has made his selections. If you want to be judgmental this is where Steve lives and dies by the sword. He will come under the pump if it doesn’t go well, and if it does, which we all want, to see he will get the praise.”

Farrell will head to Paris for the 2024/25 Top 14 season, in a move that rules himself out of England contention for the foreseeable future. However, Hartley believes that the fly half could well make a return to the England squad, after a refreshing season or two out in France. Speaking on his past experiences as England captain, and his expectations of Farrell’s future, Hartley added;

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.

“Captaincy is a thankless task. It is a bit like coaching. When it goes well it’s always about the team, when it goes wrong it’s the coach or captain’s fault. People forget that we only see 2% of what captaincy is in the 80 minutes of a game. There’s another six days in the week where captaincy is integral to the team, how it prepares and ultimately how it performs on the day.

“That is the biggest void Owen will leave. On his day a world class rugby player. The void he will leave off the field will have to be filled. This is where people don’t see the true benefits of having an Owen Farrell in the team as captain.

Dejection for Owen Farrell, Captain of England after the Six Nations Championship, Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on February 4th 2023. – PHOTO: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“For him emotionally moving to France will be a good spark for him and his family to check a new environment. He can always come home. He will benefit by playing abroad; a different stimulus, different coaching, different players to be exposed to, a different language. He could even return as a better player. 

“Knowing the man, he is pretty driven, and I don’t think he is done in an England shirt yet. We shouldn’t forget he is England’s highest ever points scorer. There will always be an opportunity for a world class player to come back. Johnny Sexton and Finn Russell both did it. He is not dead, let’s remember that! He is far from finished.

Owen Farrell, Captain of England during the Six Nations Match between England and Italy at Twickenham, London on 12 Feb 2023 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

Hartley followed this up by giving his thoughts on Courtney Lawes, as the Northampton Saints lock retired from international rugby after last year’s Rugby World Cup. Hartley believes that if Lawes wanted too, Borthwick would have him back in the England camp and amongst the contenders to be the nation’s captain.

“He (Lawes) could honestly be still in the team, and be captain. If he had said to Steve Borthwick ‘I want to be captain’ I don’t think Steve would have said no. The big fellow could easily come again.”

Courtney Lawes of England continues his recovery from injury during the England Rugby Training camp at the Honda England Rugby Performance Centre, Pennyhill Park on 30 Jan. 2023 Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Casting his attention to England’s current captain, Hartley knows all too well the talents that Jamie George brings to the side. The hooker who took the number two jersey from Hartley, George has been a stalwart of the national side, and gained valuable captaincy experience with Saracens and the 2021 British & Irish Lions. Speaking on George, Hartley added;

“Jamie has been around the block for a long time and been involved in winning teams for a long time. He has played under some fantastic captains like Owen and John Smit. For Steve looking for stability and leadership Jamie is a really safe bet. He has played his whole career with Owen and thus has all the language and voice that you need.

Jamie George, Captain of England celebrates after winning during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“He is different in the fact that he is a friendly and welcoming person. For a squad where you have got a lot of young guys coming in, he could be the person to tie it all together. He’s a fantastic person to take the team forward.”

Hartley then pivoted his attention to some of the newer faces in the England squad, as the likes of Fraser Dingwall made their test match debuts away to Italy. Despite not possessing the crash-ball physicality of Ollie Lawrence or Manu Tuilagi, Hartley explained what Dingwall’s ‘x-factor’ is. The former England captain discussed Dingwall, and the other Northampton Saints men that have established themselves in the England squad for the 2024 Six Nations.

“I have a great photograph of me celebrating a Heineken Cup win against Perpignan and a young Fraser is in the background as a fan clapping.

“Fraser is an old head. He has been around performing for a number of years. He has been chipping away and it is great to see international recognition come. He is not Manu Tuilagi or Ollie Lawrence, a huge physical presence. But he hits hard, reads the game unbelievably well, punches well above his weight and he is very athletic.   

“Alex Mitchell was not selected for the World Cup and ended up being the main man. He is that sort of instinctive rugby player we love, a younger version of Danny Care, who knows how to run. He is the type of player England needs to provide that spark. You don’t want that totally structured approach. You need someone who can test defences and keep defenders honest around the rucks.

“Finn Smith has been performing unbelievably well and has his opportunity because Marcus and Owen aren’t there. Tommy Freeman has been lighting it up and Eddie gave him a few games. You’d hope that wasn’t the end of it. It is a sign of the class of a player when at least two coaches pick you. I had three, Martin Johnson, Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones.  That shows I wasn’t just a favourite of one particular coach.

“George Furbank was picked by Eddie. He had a bit of a stinker in France on his debut but will come again.”

Lastly, Hartley gave his verdict on one of the biggest off-field talking points that proceeded the 2024 Six Nations. The shocking departure of Louis Rees-Zammit to the NFL suprised the coaches and players at Gloucester, Wales and across rugby union. Hartley is impressed by the 23-year-old’s decision to ply his trade ‘stateside’, and expressed how he sees the sport swap as ‘inspirational’.

“I don’t know Louis, but I think it is a really brave and bold move.  If I knew him, I would be really proud of him. To leave something that you are doing really well at, to go and give something else a crack is inspirational in many ways. It won’t hurt him at all. He will become a better athlete for it.

“He can always come back to rugby. How cool is it that the NFL is looking at rugby athletes to go and give it a crack. As a PR thing for rugby is a great story.”