Owen Farrell insists England’s plan of using their conditioning as a weapon in their quest for World Cup glory could be undermined by the lengthy Television Match Official referrals that have scarred the opening weekend of the tournament.
A gruelling 10-week summer training camp, including a fortnight at altitude, has given Stuart Lancaster’s men the conviction they are among the fittest teams in the tournament with lock Joe Launchbury stating they want to take opponents to “dark places”.
The aim of capitalising on this strength hit a buffer in Friday night’s 35-11 victory over Fiji, however, when six TMO referrals lasting a total of 10 minutes and eight seconds contributed to their inability to test the Islanders’ stamina.
The first half alone lasted 53 minutes and Farrell hopes the repeated consultations with the TMO will be a temporary feature of the World Cup, but hints at the frustration they caused England at Twickenham.
“There was a lot of ball out-of-play time so we didn’t really get going as a team which I thought was tough, but that is due to the circumstances,” said Farrell.
“I think the ball out-of-play time maybe took it out of us at times. Once we got going again I thought it was good again.
“We want to keep the ball in play for as long as we can, we want to play rugby, we want to make the decisions and we want to stay infield as much as we can. I’m sure there are other teams that want to do that as well.
“It’s the start of a massive tournament and there were a few stoppages that slowed the game down.
“They are trying to get as many decisions right as possible and that takes a bit more time.
“As the tournament goes on there will probably be a bit more feel for how the game is going and it will probably speed up a bit.”
Farrell is among several players, including Saracens team-mates Richard Wigglesworth and No 8 Billy Vunipola, who are pressing hard to start Saturday’s pivotal match against Wales after impressing off the bench.
England’s set-piece remained shaky against Fiji and they lost three of their nine put-ins at the scrum, including one on their own five-metre line, and there is a fear that the team is in the unusual position of being underpowered up front.
Wales’ game is based on launching waves of hard-running ball carriers, but Farrell is convinced they will be stopped at Twickenham.
“Yes definitely, we can match Wales physically in the forwards. We back ourselves up front against anybody,” continued Farrell.
“These are the games that you love playing in. We’ll build it up nicely this week and make sure that we are ready for it.
“I think the scrum still will be a strength in this tournament. I don’t know what went on against Fiji and why things happened during that game, but I know everyone here will work as hard as they possibly can do to make sure it is in the best place possible for us to go forward. The lads are international rugby players who were playing at the highest level.
“It will always be a case that the front-row lads will be looking at the set piece inside out to perform at the weekend.”
Farrell believes Fiji have the capacity to trouble Wales and Australia when they meet the other Pool A heavyweights.
“I think they definitely have an upset in them, especially with some dry ball. They have got some game-breakers in their team and different kind of game-breakers as well,” he said.
Mike Catt, meanwhile, is backing Sam Burgess’s big-game temperament to ensure he would make a seamless transition into England’s starting line-up against Wales. Burgess is in contention for promotion from the bench after impressing as a final-quarter replacement in the victory over Fiji in Friday’s World Cup opener.
The 26-year-old Dewsbury-born former league player’s direct running helped re-establish momentum at a time when England were drifting and he is among several players who are pushing for a start against Wales.
“What we saw against Fiji we’ve seen all along from Sam. We know what he brings,” said attacking skills coach Catt.
“We back Sam. Sam’s job on Friday was to come off the bench and cause the opposition problems and that’s exactly what he did. He’s a big-game player and a great competitor.”
When asked if Burgess, who has spent only 10 months in rugby union, would cope with starting against Wales, Catt replied: “Yes”.
England name their team on Thursday morning with head coach Stuart Lancaster hinting strongly after the bonus-point victory over Fiji that changes will be made.