He walks the line but Farrell's physicality is his something extra – Guscott
Owen Farrell is never out of the game.
He is a goal-kicker, a co-captain, a fly-half, but most of all it is his personality that ensures he always seems to be at the centre of the game’s stand-out moments.
He relishes taking the responsibility and initiative to change the game. Whatever he does, he is compelling to watch.
A lot of the time he brings you to your feet with applause. At others, you are watching through your fingers.
His tackle on Andre Esterhuizen in the final play of England’s 12-11 win over South Africa proved he can divide opinion in the same incident.
To me, it looked more a penalty than not. I don’t think most people would have been surprised if referee Angus Gardner had punished Farrell for it, rather than deciding it was not an offence.
It was instinctive rather than malicious, though.
Esterhuizen set off on an arcing cross-field run, outpacing first George Ford and then Mark Wilson as he looked for space in broken field.
As Farrell tracked the trajectory of his target the obvious option would be to go low with his left shoulder, and use Esterhuizen’s momentum to chop him down around the knees as the Springbok replacement came across him.
However, as he starts to get squeezed for space against the touchline, Esterhuizen changed angle slightly, straightening into contact with Farrell on the 15m line.
That changed the tackle completely.
It was suddenly more front on and Farrell opted to dig his heels in, throw his right shoulder into the collision and try to comprehensively win it.
It is the type of decision that is made in an instant.
As soon as you go above the waist nowadays you are in a dangerous zone. The shoulder can ride up or the player can dip into contact and either way you are bringing the possibility of a high tackle.
Of more concern for Farrell was whether his arms were involved in the tackle or if it was a straight and illegal use of the shoulder.
You could see that there was an attempt with his left arm, but at high pace and from the awkward position that Farrell found himself in, it was difficult to claim that he was wrapping his man.
It appeared there wasn’t enough there to keep the destiny of the match in England’s hands.
Gardner could easily have given a penalty on the video review and Handre Pollard may have kicked it to the win the match.
But there is no way that Eddie Jones will be telling Owen Farrell to change that part of his game.
You can’t help the way you are and nor should you – that is why you were picked in the first place. That physicality is the something extra that Farrell brings to that position. Neither Ford nor Danny Cipriani, the two rivals for his position, can match it.
|How England’s last four fly-halves have fared|
|Ford v SA (9 Jun)||Ford v SA (16 Jun)||Cipraini v SA (23 Jun)||Farrell v SA (3 Nov)|
A decisive 10
That controversial tackle was the final act of a really influential final 10 minutes from Farrell.
On 72 minutes, he showed rock-steady nerves and technique to land what proved the match-winning penalty from out near the touchline.
Then, in the 79th minute with the Boks pressing on the England line, he stripped the ball from second row Lood De Jager’s grasp to earn a crucial turnover.
Just like the hit on Esterhuizen, he was aggressive and furiously competitive. He went in chest high, looking to change the course of the match.
Anyone running into Owen Farrell has to be aware that he will try something more than just a tackle. De Jager had not done his due diligence and came in too upright, without protecting the ball properly, and paid the price.
We should not be surprised any more. We should almost expect these match-turning contributions from him.
He has proven himself in the crucible of Lions Tests, Six Nations contests and Champions Cup and Premiership finals, and clearly relishes leading from the front in the crucial moments.
What he has developed in his game since his Test debut six years ago is the composure and vision that helped him make the break that he did in the 55th minute.
There appeared little on as he received the ball in midfield, facing a well set up South Africa defence.
However, Farrell’s opposite number Handre Pollard second-guessed him, rushing up to intercept a possible pass to Henry Slade.
Farrell feinted to deliver a flat pass to Henry Slade, but spotting the dogleg in the South African defence out of his peripheral vision, held onto the ball instead.
His dummy and dart took him inside Damian de Allende and through the gap between the centre and second row RG Snyman.
Farrell could actually have held onto the ball longer to make more of the overlap. He was into fresh air and open space, but opted to offload to Slade, perhaps because of a tap from Snyman that made him think a cover tackle was coming in.
This was only Farrell’s third start as England fly-half since the 2015 World Cup, although his 26th overall in his 62 England caps.
That running threat was not something he had during his previous stints in the role.
But – as Cipriani and, to a lesser extent, Ford show – it helps hold an opposition defence from drifting up fast on his outside runners.
I suspect Farrell will have plenty more starts at 10 for England before, and during, Japan 2019.
Jeremy Guscott was speaking to BBC Sport’s Mike Henson.