x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Rugby union: Lions' Owen Farrell far too hot under the collar

Owen Farrell needs to curb his tantrums in the face of provocation on the British & Irish Lions tour, says Paul Radley

Barbarians’ Martin Castrogiovanni, centre, gets to grips with British & Irish Lions’ Owen Farrell, left, in Hong Kong yesterday.
Barbarians’ Martin Castrogiovanni, centre, gets to grips with British & Irish Lions’ Owen Farrell, left, in Hong Kong yesterday.

It took only three minutes for the myth to be dusted off. After the first kick at goal of the 2013 British & Irish Lions tour, all were agreed that Owen Farrell had an imperturbable temperament.

On account of the fact he managed to kick over a straightforward penalty from more or less in front of the posts. All without falling out with the ball in the meantime, or trying to deck the kicking tee, or gloatingly applaud the crossbar for his fleeting victory.

Give it another five minutes, and maybe he was not so ice-cool after all. Fair enough, he was confronted by some serious provocation, just about avoiding a smashed face as Schalk Brits's swinging left arm at a ruck washed over him. The sweaty conditions at Hong Kong Stadium were clearly good for something.

Brits is a teammate of Farrell's at the English Premiership club Saracens. With friends like that, you wonder if the young English fly-half needs the tour full of enemies who await him in Australia.

"Because of the match, he is getting a yellow," said Steve Walsh, the referee, as he ushered Brits, the South African hooker, towards the sin bin for a 10-minute sit-down.

The intimation being Brits would have been sent off had this been anything more serious than a Baa-Baas jolly up.

No harm done? Do not be so sure. What do you think watching Australians made of Farrell's ensuing reaction, with all its rambunctious arm flailing, then puerile, mocking applause as Brits made his way to the bin?

They will be licking their lips. They must have been thinking: if we need to wind up Farrell to put him off his game, it is going to be so easy it will not even be fun.

And not even the Wallabies Test side, either. Forget rugby's mythical Corinthian spirit, everyone wants to do their bit to help out when the Lions visit.

The idea of testing a debutant tourist fly-half physically and mentally is not exactly a novel one.

The last time the Lions went there, Duncan McRae (who later played in the No 10 shirt at Saracens that Farrell now wears) unleashed a horrific attack on Ronan O'Gara, the Lions stand-off.

The 11 punches to the face left O'Gara with a ghastly wound that needed eight stitches, in that series 12 years ago.

Thankfully, seldom has such blatant brutality been revisited, but a few players may be lining up for a dig at Farrell in the coming weeks, having seen yesterday's antics. If they can get a rise out of him, all the better for the host nation.

As it is, the England fly-half is likely the second choice for the No 10 shirt for the first Test on June 22, with Jonny Sexton representing a slightly more experienced option. If he does not curb the tantrums, Farrell may not even be that high in the pecking order.