Farrell has developed into Eddie Jones’ chief lieutenant on the field and arguably England’s most influential player, taking on the full captaincy in Dylan Hartley’s injury-enforced absence. But his performance in the 38-38 Calcutta Cup draw raised suspicions, not least because he bore the brunt of the blame for allowing Scotland back into the game by taking responsibility for the collapse himself.
Jones removed any individual blame on Farrell, blaming the team’s collective mental frailty instead, but he made the unusual decision to replace Farrell with George Ford in the closing stages that led to England’s match-levelling try in the final minute. Four of his England teammates played more minutes than Farrell in Elliot Daly, Jonny May, Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola, but it was Farrell’s off-colour display that raised the biggest concern.
After being rested last weekend for Saracens’ victory in the London Stadium derby against Harlequins, Farrell returns for Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Glasgow Warriors, and his director of rugby McCall does not expect a Six Nations hangover to affect him in the club’s quest to regain the European crown that they lost to Leinster last year.
“That is why he was given a week away from rugby,” said McCall. “Owen is always unbelievably keen to come back and get stuck in. It is important that he relishes games that are coming up.
“He has played a lot. Obviously the captaincy is very demanding at international level as well, so for him to get a week away and come back in, not be a captain but to be one of our crucial leaders. He has been brilliant over the last two days.”
There were reports earlier in the season that Saracens feared Farrell was fatigued, but the club denied strongly denied those at the time and have been keen to look after their internationals this season in the hope of allowing them to hit their best at the business end of the season. Farrell was rested after the autumn internationals, again last week and will have another week off before the end of the season, while George Kruis was also left out of the win over Quins to allow him to venture to the Cotswolds on a family break. Both Jamie George and Billy Vunipola, who played all five of England’s Six Nations matches, will sit out next weekend’s Premiership match with Newcastle.
“I couldn’t speak more highly of our performance team here,” added McCall. “Our sole objective is to get to these two months as physically and mentally fresh as we can be. Over the three or four years they have done a phenomenal job to make sure we are playing our best rugby at this time year, that we are as physically fit as we have been all year. You can see that in some of our second half performances but more so to see how we have done in the last four years in the home straight, in April and May.”
But as the poster boy of English rugby, it is Farrell who attracts the most attention. The 27-year-old is facing his most important six months of his career so far as he prepares to lead his country into a Rugby World Cup where they harbour genuine hopes of finishing top of the pile, although that does mean that if he is going to get any rest, it will have to be with Saracens.
“He is happy,” said McCall. “He is going to become a dad pretty soon and that’s important too.
“I hope if you interviewed him he would think that we look after him well. There will be 14 international games next season which means he won’t be playing much for us. I’m sure Prem Rugby would prefer that he plays more in the Premiership than he will but that is just the way it is. For now, it is working well.
“He has ripped back in and enjoyed being among his mates here that he has been with for the last ten years and I know he is looking forward to what is ahead.”