Owen Farrell: I was not at my best last season

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Owen Farrell of Saracens during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Saracens and Newcastle Falcons at StoneX Stadium on October 09, 2021 in Barnet, England. - GETTY IMAGES
Owen Farrell of Saracens during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Saracens and Newcastle Falcons at StoneX Stadium on October 09, 2021 in Barnet, England. - GETTY IMAGES

Owen Farrell agrees with Eddie Jones’ assessment that he was below par last season but feels invigorated ahead of England’s autumn and a potential midfield partnership with the “brilliant” Marcus Smith.

Speaking before England’s three-day training camp last month, Jones suggested that his skipper “hasn’t been at his best for some time”, citing illness and “spasmodic training sessions” as reasons.

Farrell, who followed England’s poor Six Nations by failing to start a Test for the British and Irish Lions in South Africa last summer, did not dispute the sentiment of his head coach.

“I’d agree with him,” said the 30-year-old at the launch of the Autumn Nations Series, during which England face Tonga, Australia and South Africa on consecutive weekends at Twickenham.

“I could have played better. I’d agree there's parts of my game that I want to get back to and do more of.

“I came back this summer and couldn't wait to get stuck into the games that were in front of us, couldn’t get wait to get back to playing for the club, couldn’t wait to enjoy being out there on the field again.

“That's where I’m at at the minute. I'm excited to see what's in front of us with this England team now.”

Since his return to Premiership action for Saracens in a 13-12 loss to Leicester Tigers, Farrell has guided three straight wins over Newcastle Falcons, Bath and Wasps.

He has scored 62 points in those four matches, helping Mark McCall’s men to put together some eye-catching attack. Farrell’s running game has looked sharper. According to Opta, he has beaten 10 defenders over 290 minutes on the field.

“It’s not a fact of not clicking,” added Farrell, when asked to elaborate on what has felt better about his performance this season.

“There’s stuff that I can do more of, that I’ve done well at in the past maybe, or [things] to get into my game as well.

“But that's the same as every year when you have a look at yourself at the end of the year and want to improve. This year is no different. The big thing is that you've got to perform for what's in front of you.”

A midfield axis of Farrell and Smith, perhaps with Manu Tuilagi at outside centre, is one possible backline combination from Jones’ 34-man squad.

Farrell, who has amassed 99 Test appearances, praised Smith as a “proper student of the game” with “immense passion”.

“He’s someone who can unlock a game himself but he’s also got a brilliant eye for how to make a team work as well,” said Farrell of the Harlequins playmaker.

“That sort of balance, you want to make sure he keeps – and he’s got the attitude to do that, hopefully for a long time.”

British and Irish Lions' fly-half Marcus Smith and British and Irish Lions' centre Owen Farrell (R) attend a training session at The Hermanus High School on the outskirts of Cape Town on July 20, 2021, ahead of the first Test match against South Africa on July 24. - GETTY IMAGES
British and Irish Lions' fly-half Marcus Smith and British and Irish Lions' centre Owen Farrell (R) attend a training session at The Hermanus High School on the outskirts of Cape Town on July 20, 2021, ahead of the first Test match against South Africa on July 24. - GETTY IMAGES

As well as two more Saracens in Billy and Mako Vunipola, fly-half George Ford was been a high-profile omission from Jones’ latest squad. Farrell, who has marshalled the England midfield with his age-group team-mate over recent years, would now appear likely to shift back to fly-half or to find himself at inside centre alongside a different face.

As for the prospect of lining up alongside Smith, he was confident that the pair, who have roomed together at previous England camps, could produce immediate results.

“It can [take time], but it doesn’t have to,” Farrell said. “It would same would have been with George. I know me and George played together for a long time, but we were constantly chatting and that is why I would say we had a good understanding.

“Marcus seems like he likes doing that anyway and he likes talking about rugby, understanding the game and preparing the best he can. That, for such a talented player who can unlock a game himself, is obviously a brilliant balance to have.”

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