Paris (AFP) – Owen Farrell is studying for a degree in business management and leadership and he will need some of those qualities when he captains England for the first time against France.
With Dylan Hartley ruled out due to a calf injury, Farrell will lead out Eddie Jones’s side at the Stade de France on Saturday as England look to keep their Six Nations hopes alive.
But the Saracens back, who will line up at inside centre, insists the extra pressure of the captaincy isn’t going to affect him.
“First of all, you’ve got to perform well. Getting your role right is a huge part of it,” he said.
“There will be times where that doesn’t happen but it’s about being unconditional — no matter how the game is going, it’s trying to do the right thing.”
Farrell will certainly be hoping his leading role runs more smoothly than his online degree through Northumbria University, which he admits has been dragged out longer than the three years it’s supposed to take.
“It’s been put back a few times,” said the 26-year-old. “I haven’t taken three years.”
Before the summer is up he needs to hand in a 12,000 word dissertation.
Asked how many words he’s written so far, Farrell replied: “None yet.” That’s hardly surprising given his subject matter is “still to be confirmed”.
Academia is perhaps not his strongest area — he got a D grade in French at school — fortunately for England, though, his focus on the pitch is far more meticulous.
His country’s first choice kicker, Farrell has scored 647 points in 56 internationals.
He’s helped England to back-to-back Six Nations victories and was part of the last two British and Irish Lions tours.
So captaining his country isn’t going to faze Farrell.
He hasn’t even thought about the feeling he’ll get leading out his country.
“Not yet. I’m looking forward to playing in the game,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there and the team performing well, that’s what I’m most excited about.”
Jones has rung the changes following England’s 25-13 defeat to Scotland two weeks ago, and not just due to injuries.
Fit-again Elliot Daly has come in on the left wing with Anthony Watson moving to full-back and Mike Brown dropping to the replacements bench.
Ben Te’o was also prefered to Jonathan Joseph at outside centre while Jamie George replacing Hartley is the only change in the pack.
– ‘Walking on water’ –
France coach Jacques Brunel has gone for a more stable selection approach, switching only his fly-half, as Francois Trinh-Duc replaces Lionel Beauxis.
And Trinh-Duc is in no doubt about the task facing his side against the champions.
“Recently they’ve been a team that walks on water,” Trinh-Duc said.
“They play pretty well, they lose very few matches, it’s clean, they’re well oiled.
“They make few mistakes and that’s what wins you matches at the top level.”
England have won 24 out of 26 matches under Jones while France have tasted success only eight times in the same period since the end of the 2015 World Cup.
No-one is even kidding themselves that France might win the Six Nations.
While England have gone from strength to strength, France are in crisis, but Trinh-Duc pointed to England’s own resurgence after a group stage elimination from the 2015 World Cup as hope for the French.
“People forget that there was a time when everyone was writing England’s obituary, they were on their knees — now, two years later, they’ve come back quickly,” said Trinh-Duc.
“It’s possible. Teams like Ireland, England and Scotland were able to do it and so are we.”
Brunel believes the key is gaining confidence by proving France can compete with the best.
“If England want to win the Six Nations they have to beat us, otherwise they can’t,” he added.
“We were close to Ireland and we have to stay close to England.”