England Summer Tour hopes intact as Farrell and Marler avoid serious punishment
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | April 27, 2016
England and Harlequins prop Joe Marler simply cannot keep his name out of the headlines.
Red Rose prop pays price for ‘Quins kick
No sooner had he returned from suspension for his “Gypsy Boy” slur towards Samson Lee when on international duty, as the Red Rose played Wales en route to Six Nations Grand Slam glory, than Marler picked up a two-week ban for his illegal boot on Grenoble hooker Arnaud Heguy in the European Rugby Challenge Cup semi-final.
Marler’s club indiscretion is fortunate not to have resulted in him missing the final against Montpellier or to have ruled him out of the England Summer Tour to Australia, though he is suspended for the last two Aviva Premiership matches.
All this comes amid talk of a Wallabies whitewash, plus the RFU concluding negotiations with Bath scrum coach specialist Neal Hatley about answering his country’s call.
Marler taking up Hartley mantle?
Red Rose boss and Tasmania native Eddie Jones has already warned his Grand Slam winners against complacency that could cost them Red Rose Tour places, but he is now dealing with a key forward that cannot keep discipline.
Marler is garnering a growing reputation as the bad boy of English rugby – a title once held by mellowed captain Dylan Hartley – and has been alternating on the loosehead side with Mako Vunipola throughout the 2016 Six Nations.
A gallant defence by outgoing Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea of Marler was predictable, but fell on deaf ears following the prop’s citation for foul play.
Farrell following suit
It’s not just Marler’s ill-discipline in European club rugby that has impacted upon the end of the season. First-choice kicker Owen Farrell has been found guilty of a dangerous tackle in Saracens’ Champions Cup win over Wasps, but will only serve the same suspension.
Dropped deeper from fly half to play at inside centre for England, Farrell kicked 64 points and also crossed for a try against Italy to be top scorer in the Six Nations – ahead of Scotland scrum half and skipper Greig Laidlaw.
Jones will be relieved he doesn’t need to replace either Farrell or Marler, though contenders to do so are already on the Red Roster. Noises coming out of the Southern Hemisphere, meanwhile, suggest Australia come into the series with concerns.
Lynagh likes look of Red Rose
Wallabies record points scorer Michael Lynagh has stimulated plenty of debate with his claim England are capable of winning all three Tour matches.
“It’s going to be a fascinating series,” Lynagh, a regular pundit during last year’s Rugby World Cup, told the British media. “Eddie’s going down there to win the series 3-0 and why not? It’s realistic. It’s a good squad.”
“He’s come in and said ‘we are going to be arrogant, we have to be like that to win’. I think Eddie looks at the culture of English rugby and there is a perception that arrogance is part of it – so he’s said we’ll go and do that.
“He’s not trying to ‘Australianise’ England. It would be wrong to do that, you have to come in and work on what culturally works within the country.”
Aussies rarely lose to English touring parties
If history is any indicator, then Lynagh may be somewhat overestimating the Red Rose, who have won only two of 15 Tour matches Down Under ever with just a solitary victory by more than a converted try.
That came in the summer of 2003, however, when England last scooped a Grand Slam and en route Rugby World Cup glory. Jones was on the receiving end of that back then.
A positive picture can certainly be painted based on that and the fact that the Red Rose took their last Tour match in Australia, albeit by a single point, actually adds further weight to what still looks like little more than downplaying host expectations on Lynagh’s part.
Reputations tarnished when previously paired
What is clear that Stuart Lancaster’s Red Rose were found wanting when previously playing the Wallabies, who eliminated them from their own Rugby World Cup.
England were undone by an outstanding solo show from Aussie fly half Bernard Foley, while having no answer to the brilliant breakdown work of back row forwards Michael Hooper and David Pocock.
If there has been a Red Rose rugby revolution since that tournament exit in October, then it cannot be a radical one. Jones retained plenty of names from his predecessor’s roster that flopped big time as Rugby World Cup hosts, has picked them up and helped them to prove themselves.
Easy to get carried away with spring success
This year’s Six Nations Grand Slam was an easy one for England to win, and they are firm 11/8 favourites with Coral to retain the championship next year.
Ireland’s defence this past spring was destined to fail due to injuries and retirements, leaving Jones’ charges to scrap it out with Wales for the title, because of familiar frailties from Scotland at the start of matches and a forgettable campaign by France that was characterised by Italy almost beating them on the opening day.
Suggesting the Red Rose can run riot Down Under when they’ve never strung two consecutive Tour Test wins in that country together is getting carried away. Lynagh knows the Wallabies have already given England an autumn licking and could easily mete out similar punishment on home soil.
Chinks in armour must be mended
With Jones making the addition of another coach to his staff in Hatley, that suggests there may be some concern about the Red Rose being weaker than the hosting Wallabies in the scrum.
Southern Hemisphere sides exploit weaknesses easily. Just ask France, who were eliminated in head-spinning fashion by eventual Rugby World Cup winners New Zealand as sooner as the knockout phase started.
If England are to offer a threat to the Aussies this summer, then they will have to put convincing halves of rugby together – something the jury is out on them doing under ‘Tasmanian devil’ Jones so far.