Time for England players to take greater responsibility – Farrell

Owen Farrell believes now is the time for the players to stand up and take responsibility for England’s progression.

England RU International Chris Ashton and Joel Tomkins, were working with a group of youngsters from Wetherby High School as part of the England Connected philosophy that was created when Stuart Lancaster became head coach. (Picture: James Hardisty).

The 22-year-old fly-half has been the poster boy of Stuart Lancaster’s revolution of the national set-up.

He made his debut in Lancaster’s first apointment in February, 2012, and has been first choice 
No 10 for much of that period.

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As he has evolved into a world class goal-kicker and international-standard play-maker, so England have developed into a force to be reckoned with.

But all the rhetoric this last week at their training base in Leeds, and throughout the Lancaster reign, has been about hitting their peak in time for the 2015 World Cup on home soil.

That means progressing through every tournament and every series. It means winning games, developing systems and patterns and building squad strength.

All the signs point to that ethos blossoming and Farrell believes that over the next three Saturdays at Twickenham, England’s players must be the ones who back up their coach’s words.

“The team is getting better and better in the short time I’ve been involved, and our improvement has been pretty rapid as well,” said Farrell, ahead of games from next Saturday against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand.

“For us to keep building on that, we as players need to take ownership of that to help it kick on. That is the next step for us.

“It’s something we’ve spoken about and we’ve got to make sure we get our heads down and continue progressing.”

Lancaster has spoken at length in recent weeks about the strength in depth he is creating in his expansive England squad.

At scrum-half and hooker in particular, he has an embarrassment of riches. Fly-half is not so overflowing with international experience, however, with Farrell first choice and Toby Flood pushing for a recall. Gloucester’s Freddie Burns would be next in line with Bath’s George Ford also in Lancaster’s thinking.

Those that are snapping at his heels give Farrell – who played his part in the British and Irish Lions victorious tour of Australia in the summer – added incentive to continue his own development.

“You’ve always got something to prove, every time you go out and train you’re always trying to prove yourself and show what you can do,” said Farrell, whose progression is aided at club level as part of all-powerful Saracens side.

“That’s the way it should be. The competition is brilliant here, it’s a healthy one. It’s not a competition where you wish anybody ill, and everybody is willing to put their best foot forward.

“I’m trying to get better at every aspect all the time.

“If there’s a game I play in and something needs working on from that then in the next week I make sure I work hard on that.

“Sometimes there’s a few things, sometimes nothing. But I’m trying to see how I can get better all the time, and I know I’m not the only one.”

Farrell was speaking at the end of England’s brief stay in Leeds, a camp that he believes is crucial in preparing the squad for the demands of the month ahead.

Two other rugby league converts in the union fold were also active this week in extending the England team’s links with the Yorkshire public.

As part of England Connected, a Lancaster initiative designed at strengthening bonds between elite players and the grass roots, winger Chris Ashton and rookie back Joel Tomkins visited Grange Park to give a masterclass and a Q&A to 30 pupils from Wetherby High School.

Tomkins, one of four newcomers to Lancaster’s elite player squad for the autumn, said: “Ever since I’ve been involved in professional rugby I’ve really enjoyed coming to clubs like this and seeing kids develop.

“Events like this, with plenty of youngsters involved, can only be good for the sport because they give kids a taster of what they might be able to achieve further down the line. I think this is a great way to go. It’s the next level from what we experienced and the kids can pick up some good advice.”

Ashton added: “We’ve been in the same position ourselves and I don’t see why our coming to give a bit back shouldn’t be a good thing.

“There’s a real feel-good factor when you see kids listening and taking in what you are telling them. You think it might make a difference and who knows – we might have one of these youngsters playing for England one day.”

Wetherby High got involved in union two years ago when Lancaster began England’s outreach programme.

Nick Nightingale of Wetherby High said: “The expressions on the faces of the students when we told them the England lads were coming was just tremendous.”