Owen Farrell has now banged over 29 successful kick s in a row, a performance that puts him up there with the likes of Chris Paterson and Jonny Wilkinson. Farrell was the reason why Saracens beat Racing in Paris, but it wasn’t all down to goal kicking.
One of the most underrated aspects of Saint Jonny’s game was the accuracy of his passing. Modern rugby is full of big men who can crush boulders in their jaws, but most of them have hands of concrete. The right-handed ones struggle to pass to their left under pressure. The common errors are to pass behind the man or too high, stunting the momentum of the backline.
Wilkinson rarely missed his spot, his pass percentages as good as his goal kicking. And although it was the brilliance of Farrell’s goalkicking that gave Saracens eternal hope in their Heineken Cup contest, even when they had leaked three tries in a quarter of an hour, it was a pass that gave them the belief.
Taking the ball from an attacking lineout Farrell held the ball up for just a fraction of a second while Joel Tomkins drifted to the outside of the man. Actually drift doesn’t really do the pace of Tomkins’ movement justice. It was more of a scorch.
And just when Tomkins had found that chink of light Farrell released the ball perfectly ahead of his man. It wasn’t a huge, heroic spin pass. It didn’t need to be. Precision and timing will usually beat a man as Barry John, not the most aesthetic passer, so often demonstrated.
Soccer players spend days working at their passing accuracy and running off the ball. Those two skills are why Barcelona are the best club team on the planet and why Spain are world champions. Their players never stop running in their effort to find space – a skill that Conrad Smith is pretty good at – and they never let their passing standards drop.
Farrell’s moment at the weekend showed that such skills are just as valuable in rugby, however neglected they are. Mike Gibson was another glorious exponent of finding space both with his feet and his pass, but he probably would be overlooked these days for being too small.
Farrell can be a great player for England but his next task is to up his passing accuracy percentages to match his strike rate at goal. He has the ability. We saw it against Racing. Farrell just needs to do it more consistently.
But then there is scarcely a player on the planet who wouldn’t benefit from setting the same goal.