England’s Farrell admits aggressive style makes dealing with referees a challenge

Owen Farrell has admitted his aggressive playing style makes communicating with referees a challenge after he was restored to the England captaincy by Eddie Jones.

Farrell, having completed the return to play protocols from his head injury yesterday, will lead England for the first time since last November against Argentina on Sunday in the absence of Courtney Lawes.

Jones had been expected to stick by Lawes for the autumn campaign before the Northampton flanker suffered a setback in his recovery from a head injury but gave Farrell his full backing despite recently explaining how having a captain who can calmly deal with the officials is of increasing importance.

That has rarely been Farrell’s strong suit and came to a head in the 2021 Six Nations defeat in Cardiff when he was evidently incensed by Pascal Gaüzère awarding Wales two controversial tries. Farrell is relishing a return to the captaincy and admitted a pride at assuming the role, before conceding that his feisty approach can give off the wrong message.

“I’d say the challenge for me is obviously the way that I play the game, the way I present myself at times when I’m playing the game,” said Farrell.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily what I say, it is sometimes making sure that you’re giving off the right message as well. But I guess that’s an expectation of both sides, of how it should be and how you are and realising what is wanted from the other side as well.

“Because there’s different captains all over the world. There’s been really, really calm ones that are good. And there’ve been some explosive ones that have been really good as well, and there are still a few knocking about now.

“I want to be me and I want to work on how I can be a better me. I’ve never been too overly bothered with outside of what’s going on too much. And I don’t think I’ll start now.”

If Jones sees the importance of a captain who can converse with officials, he equally values the combative nature of Farrell, who will win his 98th England cap against Argentina. “I don’t think I’ve met a player with more competitive spirit than him,” said Jones. The head coach has in effect stopped Farrell from talking to referees in the past, however, and refused to confirm whether the Saracens playmaker or his vice-captains, Ellis Genge and Jack Nowell, will be responsible on Sunday. “We’ve got a strategy in place.” he added. “The players will work it out on the field.”

Farrell lines up in a midfield combination with Marcus Smith and Manu Tuilagi either side of him from the start for the first time against Argentina with the 23-year-old Alex Coles making a debut at lock. Maro Itoje shifts to blindside flanker as a result while there are returns to the side for Kyle Sinckler, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ben Youngs and Joe Cokanasiga.

“We have been watching [Coles] for a while,” said Jones. “All those cold Friday nights up at Northampton have been worth it. He is a good young player. He is a player we have earmarked who could push Courtney Lawes in that six/four position. He has the ability to play both. We feel like he has got good lineout skills. I am delighted to give him an opportunity against a tough Argentina pack.”

Jonny May was not deemed ready to feature against Argentina, having dislocated his elbow two weeks ago but is likely to come into contention to face Japan next Saturday. In a blow for Jones and England, however, Henry Arundell is unlikely to appear in any of the four Tests this autumn after suffering a foot injury last month. “Arundell is a bit slower than we thought he would be,” said Jones. “He probably won’t feature in November.”