The England captain and Italy flanker had a tasty exchange on the floor
It’s almost half a century since the days of the ‘99’ call when the 1974 Lions would, to a man, pile into their South African opponents on Willie John McBride’s say so.
That level of on-field violence has rightly been left in the rearview mirror by the professional game – you hardly see a punch thrown nowadays. But there is no shortage of traditional (largely) rule-abiding physicality on show and there’s also nothing wrong with a bit of old-fashioned niggle.
England captain Owen Farrell’s dalliance with Italy flanker Sebastian Negri certainly caught the eye (no pun intended) at Twickenham on Sunday. Negri folded Steve Borthwick’s fly-half in two with a dominant hit, milliseconds after he passed the ball to Freddie Steward.
Watch Owen Farrell fight with Sebastian Negri
Now there’s nothing wrong with that, the tackle was certainly not late and Farrell knows better than most that it’s the price you pay for taking the ball to the line.
The ensuing grapple on the floor saw both players adopt the traditional ‘forearm to the throat’ method that has become commonplace since it became more than just frowned upon to let the punches fly.
Many will argue Negri was lucky to escape punishment after rubbing his hands in Farrell’s face but this kind of flare-up is exactly what the Netflix cameras are looking for as they aim to give the Six Nations, and rugby union, the publicity boost it so desperately needs.
With talk of teams being less than helpful with behind-the-scenes access, perhaps interviewing players for insight into incidents like this can help peel back the curtain to the top echelon of the game.
If not, we are at risk of sitting down to watch an elongated and sanitised rugby advert in 2024, when Netflix are slated to release this championship’s production, rather than a hard-hitting and game-changing docuseries.
All the best players have a spiky edge to them and the Farrell fight underlines the fact that he is no different. If Negri getting stuck into him helps bring out the inner fire that clearly burns inside then only England’s opponents should be complaining.
Fans want to see players at boiling point. If you are not pumped full of adrenaline and visibly giving your all for your country, then what is the point?
Just shy of 82,000 saw England beat Italy but you can bet your bottom dollar nearly all of them have dreamed of being out on the field at some stage. So, what better way to get fans on board than show how much it means to play for your country?
Of course you don’t just do that by scrapping but even the solidarity shown by Ollie Chessum, who arguably pipped Finn Russell to assist of the weekend by flipping Farrell on top in his duel, is enough to portray some togetherness and pride in the shirt.
England lost their way at the end of the Eddie Jones regime and the writing was on the wall for the Australian when the punters booed his team off against South Africa in the autumn.
Borthwick has wisely been at pains to point out how brilliant and important his side’s fans are. If they are to get on board with his fledgling team, then there’s no harm in a bit of raw passion breaking through. And if that is shown to a wider audience on Netflix, then the number of fans should only continue to grow.
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