I backed myself for decisive kick, says England captain Farrell

LONDON (Reuters) - Owen Farrell said he never doubted himself as he lined up the sudden-death penalty that won the Autumn Nations Cup for England on Sunday, despite missing four kicks earlier in the match, including one 80 seconds into the “golden points” period.

Rugby Union - Autumn Nations Cup - England v France - Twickenham, London, Britain - December 6, 2020 England's Owen Farrell wearing his medal as England celebrate winning the Autumn Nations Cup Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

With six minutes left until a penalty shootout, Farrell duly slotted the tricky kick from wide left to secure the 22-19 victory that brought England the title and finally quelled an inspired challenge from a desperately inexperienced French side.

Asked if he considered handing over the goalkicking duties, Farrell, who also nailed an 80th-minute conversion to level the scores and bring about extra time, said: “No, I backed myself. I missed some that I definitely shouldn’t have missed and made that game go on longer than it should have.

“But I was confident in our ability. I thought we grew throughout the second half. There were a lot of chances to win that game but the boys kept putting us in places to win it. Obviously it takes only one mistake, but we got better and better, and got there in the end.”

Coach Eddie Jones was delighted to end the year on a high, despite having to go so deep to get the victory.

“We weren’t at our best for whatever reason in the first half and we had to find a way to win that game and from halftime onwards I thought we were outstanding,” he said. “We wouldn’t have won that game 12 months ago.”

“We’re still not playing the way we want to – some of the reasons are out of our control,” added Jones, who has spent much of the last month justifying England’s kicking game against the backdrop of a refereeing focus that he says works against ball in hand.

“I’m proud of their efforts and how they’ve fought through,” he said. “Performance-wise it’s difficult for the guys, they haven’t had a pre-season and these games are difficult. They’re probably not as sharp but when you show character like that it was great and it was wonderful for the fans to be there.”

Having added the Nations Cup to the Six Nations, Jones will quickly turn his attention back to Europe’s premier competition, which kicks off in two months.

“You can only compete in what’s in front of you and we’ve won both trophies and the next challenge is to win the Six Nations,” he said. “We’ll reconvene and try to play better rugby.”

Jones paid due credit to the young French team, though he said the data he had collected on them individually showed there was very little in terms of talent between them and the regular internationals they had replaced and that he was not surprised by their performance.

He also issued a reminder that they were not the only side doing some rebuilding, albeit his work being less dramatic.

“Of the eight guys who came off the bench for us today only Joe Marler had more than 10 caps,” he said. “It was a very young team on at the end, it wasn’t just the French who were young.

“We’re getting that competitive tension in the team and that drives everyone. We’re evolving the style of rugby to get where we want to go and just have to keep working on our skills.”

Reporting by Mitch Phillips, Editing by Toby Davis