Owen Farrell was “very unhappy” at losing the England captaincy, Eddie Jones has revealed after handing the role to Courtney Lawes for the series against Australia. Farrell has captained England for more than four years whenever selected and though Jones admitted his decision has created a “difficult situation”, he believes it will bring the best out of the inside-centre.
Farrell returns to the England side for Saturday’s first Test for the first time since November but starts for his country without the captaincy for the first time since the 2018 Six Nations. The decision is an echo of when Jones switched from Dylan Hartley to Farrell in the buildup to the 2019 World Cup – they were co-captains the previous autumn – and while the head coach insisted it was a move with only the Wallabies series in mind, it is a significant signpost towards France in 2023.
On Thursday Jones explained that he had informed Farrell in advance of the tour and when asked about his reaction he said: “Very unhappy. Owen is a bloke who expresses his feelings clearly and he wants to be captain. When I told him he wasn’t going to be captain, he wasn’t very happy. He’s had a fair while out of the team and at this stage we feel it is the best thing for the team and for Owen, because he is a very important player for us. I didn’t expect him to be happy, I expected him to be unhappy and it was just the sort of reaction I wanted because that is the sort of player he is.”
Farrell’s win record as captain - 23 victories from 34 matches – is better than Lawes’s (three from five), which is not lost on Jones, but the Northampton flanker has proved a popular leader within the squad. Jones has previously explained how his leadership group used to be too Saracens-centric and while Farrell survived the initial shakeup at the start of the season, he has now been stripped of the responsibility. “It is a difficult situation,” Jones said of the dynamic between Farrell and Lawes. “But they are both good players, good teammates and they’re working it out.”
Farrell missed two of England’s three autumn matches last year as well as the entire Six Nations with two different ankle injuries, coming on the back of a disappointing British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa. Since returning for Saracens in late March, however, Farrell has played at a level closer to the form he was showing before the club was embroiled in its salary cap scandal which forced a clutch of senior England players to spend a season in the Championship.
As a result, Jones is hoping his decision to ease the burden on Farrell, as he and the fly-half Marcus Smith develop their 10-12 partnership, will bear fruit as England go in search of a ninth straight win against Australia but on the back of a disappointing Six Nations campaign and an embarrassing pre-tour defeat by the Barbarians.
“He has got less responsibility, therefore he can focus more on his play which, for Owen and the team, is important,” Jones added. “The decision has been made because we want Owen to be at his best and we feel, given the time he has been out, we want him to focus on being the best player he can be. The captaincy takes up a fair bit of time. We feel there is enough on his plate being inside-centre, he has got a young 10 next to him and that is the right role for him on this tour.”
Australia: Tom Banks, Andrew Kellaway, Len Ikitau, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Quade Cooper, Nic White; Angus Bell, David Porecki, Allan Alaalatoa, Darcy Swain, Cadeyrn Neville, Rob Leota, Michael Hooper (c), Rob Valetini.
Replacements: Folau Fainga’a, Scott Sio, James Slipper, Matt Philip, Pete Samu, Jake Gordon, Noah Lolesio, Jordan Petaia.
England: Freddie Steward, Jack Nowell, Joe Marchant, Owen Farrell, Joe Cokanasiga, Marcus Smith, Danny Care; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Will Stuart, Maro Itoje, Jonny Hill, Courtney Lawes (c), Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Joe Heyes, Ollie Chessum, Lewis Ludlam, Jack van Poortlviet, Guy Porter, Henry Arundell.