England coach Stuart Lancaster has reflected on a bad-tempered victory over France by stressing to his players the need to maintain their composure in the face of provocation.
The short fuse of Owen Farrell, whom Lancaster insists has a 50 per cent chance of recovering from a thigh injury for the Six Nations game with Italy on March 10, was the greatest source of concern at Twickenham on Saturday.
The 21-year-old fly-half was spared a citing for elbowing scrum-half Morgan Parra, but was feisty throughout and was widely criticised for his frequent skirmishes with French players.
Wing Chris Ashton was also condemned for igniting a late brawl after throwing the ball at Benjamin Fall, but it is Farrell’s conduct that has been most heavily scrutinised.
“I’ve spoken to the group generally to make sure that we stay focused on the task in hand,” said Lancaster. “Upon review of the game, we definitely got involved in one or two incidents that we didn’t need to.
“We spoke about that as a group. As an opposition coach and team you’ve got to do everything in your power to upset and try to niggle the opposition.
“You have to be able to deal with that, keep your focus and deal with the task in hand, letting your rugby do the talking.
“It’s not a big issue, I don’t think we have a big fundamental disciplinary issue at all. In the context of the game, we were challenged by a very, very good French side and were delighted to come out on top.”
Farrell’s involvement in the penultimate assignment of England’s attempt to claim their first grand slam in a decade is in doubt as he continues his rehabilitation from the quad strain that cut short his afternoon against France.
Lancaster names his team to face Italy a week today and will give the Saracens playmaker every chance to prove his fitness, with Leicester’s Toby Flood on standby in case he fails to recover.
“Owen’s making good progress, he’s probably 50-50 for the Italy game. In the next week, he’ll be running around okay. The issue will come when he has to kick,” he said. “We have to make sure that it’s healed properly so that it doesn’t break down again through kicking. Being a fly-half, that’s obviously an important part of the job.
“Running around is fine, but what you don’t want to do is return to kicking too early and return the injury to its current state.
“There will have to be a staged progression in his kicking, which will go gently upwards.”
If Farrell is ruled out and Toby Flood promoted to the starting XV, the hope will be that Freddie Burns proves on his return for Gloucester against Bath tonight that he is ready for a spot on the England bench. Burns has been sidelined for six weeks with a knee problem.