Eddie Jones reveals Owen Farrell was under orders not to engage with referee against France

Head coach Eddie Jones says England’s leaders silenced their critics  and then revealed captain Owen Farrell was under instructions not to engage with referee Andrew Brace against France.

Jones’ side delivered their best performance since the World Cup as Maro Itoje’s late try halted France’s Grand Slam bid at Twickenham.

England’s defence of their Six Nations title ended two weeks ago in Cardiff after conceding 14 penalties against Wales with Itoje alone accounting for five offences. That defeat placed Farrell’s leadership and communication skills with the officials under the microscope

Last week, England brought in referees Wayne Barnes and Matthew Carley to assist Farrell and the leaders’ ability to deal with adversity. In a pre-planned strategy, Farrell did not once remonstrate with Brace who contentiously reversed a penalty decision later in the game. 

Yet Farrell’s silent approach did not compromise his performance according to Jones. “The way Owen has responded to the criticism that he has received has been absolutely outstanding,” Jones said.

“He hasn’t whinged, he hasn’t complained, he took it on the chin and got on with it and fixed his game. He’s got back to his belligerent aggressive self. And we basically made the decision on the referee that we were going to let him do whatever he wanted.

“No queries, no questions. He had a game plan about how he wanted to referee and we followed and adapted. Owen had a great balance and I thought he was at his aggressive best. When you consider the performance of Maro, Tom Curry and Owen, they led the team. They set the platform for the team.”

Jones had little doubt that Itoje would also deliver after the setback at the Principality Stadium. No long chats were needed by the coaching staff in the build-up to the match. “Sometimes you can see it in a player when they have their head around it and their eyes in it,” Jones said.

“To play that sort of game, on the back of what he has had to suffer, is a real great testament to his character and his desire to be a good team-mate. That is what stood out for me – his desire to be a good team-mate.”

Itoje, who is among the favourites to be named Lions captain, conceded just one penalty while winning two turnovers and constantly disrupting the French set piece.

The Saracens lock has always played on the edge, but after his recent indiscretions he made sure stayed on the right side of the line. 

Eddie Jones praised Maro Itoje's performance against France


Eddie Jones praised Maro Itoje’s performance against France


Credit: GETTY IMAGES

“There’s been a bit of perception that has come about with my game and how I play the game,” Itoje said. “If you give away five penalties then referees (will hear) outside noise that is going to say Maro Itoje gives away a lot of penalties. 

“Obviously I never want to lose my bite, I never want to lose my edge. I believe my mentality makes me the player I am. My attitude makes me the player I am. At the same time, I have to thread that needle more effectively.”

England still conceded 12 penalties overall against France to take their tally to 53 for the tournament. However, there was a distinct difference between the more bone-headed offences conceded against Wales with six of the penalties against France being awarded after the ball-carrier became isolated.

“When you start moving the ball at pace it puts more pressure on your support play and our support play just wasn’t good enough,” Jones said. “It’s not a discipline issue, it’s a playing issue.” 

Jones only real cause for complaint was Brace reversing his penalty decision against Ben Earl late in the game, apparently after conversing with France captain Charles Ollivon. “I know we want to get the ratings up in rugby but that’s ridiculous,” Jones said.

Overall, however, Jones was delighted with the performance as England matched a much-fancied French team for attacking intent. “That’s what we are aiming to do – to get that game where we can win it through our set piece, win it through our kicking, or we can win it through our ability to move the ball at pace,” Jones said.

“We’re trying to get that balance right at the moment, and this is a bit of a transition the team’s going through, but we’ve got to keep at it because we have a plan in place of where we want to be by the World Cup.”

England now head to Dublin on Saturday for their final round match against Ireland having laid down a marker for the rest of the year. “I think this could be a springboard for us as a team,” Billy Vunipola, the No 8, said.

“We talked about wanting to be the greatest team in the world and this will give us confidence; knowing that we can mix it with the best teams out there and beat them.”

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