Brad Barritt believes the support of key members of the double winning Saracens leadership team will ensure Owen Farrell handles the pressure of the England captaincy as he attempts to guide the team to glory at the World Cup in Japan.
Farrell’s form has been patchy in the warm-up tests for the tournament with one of England’s truly world class players switching from inside centre to outside half as head coach Eddie Jones attempted to identify his best mid-field combination.
Chris Robshaw’s test captaincy was defined by England’s failure to get out of their pool while hosting the 2015 World Cup with key decisions he made being put under relentless scrutiny. This is the pressure Farrell will have to deal with in a pool including France, Argentina, Tonga and USA.
Barritt, who was a member of the 2015 England squad, captained Saracens to the Heineken Cup and Premiership double last season, and understands the weight that is now on Farrell’s shoulders. Barritt said: “It is never down to one person. Owen is spearheading the leadership force but ultimately you have to surround yourself with other great leaders and he has the benefit of the core of the Saracens leadership group with him.
“Owen leads from the front and will have great guys with experience around him and it is about using that because you cannot have a foothold in every facet of the game. You need people to boss the line out and dictate at the scrum and you need those voices around you. He knows that better than anyone.”
Farrell is one of 15 Saracens players competing for various nations at the Rugby World Cup along with Richard Wigglesworth who is acting as Canada’s defence coach at the tournament which means their squad depth is being tested at the start of the English domestic season. The arrival of Damian Willemse, from the Stormers, gives Saracens an outstanding talent who can play outside half and full back and who may still be called into the Sprinbok World Cup squad if injury strikes.
Barritt is excited to see Willemse in action and believes Saracens can help turn him into an even better player thanks to the different style of rugby in the Premiership which will require a more structured approach and a quick understanding of the club’s defensive structure and kick-chase strategy. With Max Malins and England’s Alex Goode injured, Willemse solves a No10 crisis.
Barritt said: “Damian had his first training session with at the start of this week and he is a very exciting talent and is someone who has played at No10 and full back. He is immensely skilful player who we welcome with open arms and it is a win-win all round. We have the benefit of an incredible talent, great young player with a fantastic future ahead of him and he has the opportunity to work on a few different things than he would face playing in South Africa.
“I hope he will go back a wiser and more rounded player from this experience because anyone who comes over to the UK realises that the game is played in a slightly different way and it requires different skills. The Stormers and Western Province will hopefully benefit from the next couple of months from Damian’s progression. On the flip side we are going to benefit from a really talented player joining us. It is obviously disappointing that Max Malins is injured having come on leaps and bounds last season and he was looking good in pre-season before getting injured and is out for some time.
“Alex Goode I am told should be back in training from his foot injury in a couple of weeks and is on the mend.”
Willemse has joined what Barritt calls a “fresh faced squad” and It means new combinations will be needed for the Premiership Cup which is taking place as a lead into the delayed start of the Premiership. “It is a fresh faced squad at the moment:” added Barritt. “In terms of this early part of the season the word we are using around the club is “opportunity” because we have a great academy system.
“These guys may not have been given as much of a chance as they would have liked because the starting XV has been so successful. Now, we can unearth the next generation of talent and they can put a marker down for the rest of the season. The squad has come on leaps and bounds.”