'Not about the World Cup now'
SIX NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: England skipper Owen Farrell says the lost World Cup final is well behind him as he and his team warily eye a France side “capable of unlocking a game”.
Farrell was captain in Japan last year when England beat New Zealand in the semi-finals but went down to South Africa in the final.
Coach Eddie Jones said the 12-32 defeat by the Springboks had left a permanent “scar”, but Farrell gave it a more positive spin.
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“It’s not about the World Cup now,” Farrell said. “The World Cup is done. The only thing we can get after now is what’s coming up.
“It’s about where this team’s going, that’s the exciting bit, not putting that [World Cup final loss] right.
“It’s up to you to use it in the right way, no matter what the result…to move forward and get the best out of yourself.”
Farrell added: “I find it weird sat here talking about the World Cup when we’ve got a huge game at the start of the Six Nations on Sunday.
“The exciting bit is what’s in front of us. That starts on Sunday, a big start, everybody’s pouring all their efforts into preparing the best they can.”
After a short break following the World Cup, England players were soon back at their respective clubs, in action in their domestic leagues and Europe.
“It’s not like we’ve been sat at home on the couch since we’ve got home!” joked Farrell, one of five England players from Saracens, the crisis-hit English and European champions who will be relegated to England’s second-tier at this season’s end over a salary cap scandal.
“We’ve had quite a lot to focus on as players. And in an England context, it’s good to get back together, it’s exciting to see now where we can take this.
“We had a chat when we first got together, each individual’s thoughts on the World Cup and reviewing it and putting a bit in action to go forward.
“We love being here, in this environment. It’s an exciting tournament ahead of us.”
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A new start
Farrell was full of praise for a France that seems to have been galvanised by the arrival of Fabien Galthie as head coach.
“They beat us here two years ago in Paris and they were very close to being a World Cup semi-final,” the Saracens fly-half said.
“They’ve got some outstanding players and it seems like a new start for them. It’s a big build up and something everyone’s going to get excited about in France with the World Cup being here next time around (in 2023).
“As with all French teams, they have the ability to unlock a game at any time, no matter where you are on the field, no matter the time on the clock.”
Farrell starts at inside centre at the Stade de France on Sunday, with George Ford at flyhalf, in tandem as a proven double play-making pair.
France will have Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack pulling the reins at half-back.
“Dupont is electric, he makes stuff happen, sees things quickly and just goes to it,” Farrell said.
“He doesn’t second guess himself, he’s very decisive and because of that he makes stuff happen.
“Athletically, he’s good, strong, quick, tough, he gets stuck in, he doesn’t shy away from anything.”
Ntamack, Farrell added, was “calmer, laid back, doesn’t get flustered by anything, but can make things happen, has the ability to beat people”.
“They are the two key players in what they’re going to do in attack… we’re going to have to be engaged as a whole team not just in and around them when they’re attacking.”
Also a threat, Farrell said, was Virimi Vakatawa, the French centre of Fijian heritage who was in scintillating form for Racing 92 as the Parisian club sailed into the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup.
“He’s someone who makes something happen, be it for himself, offloading or getting a ball away when it seems like most people can’t,” Farrell said.
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