England captain Owen Farrell was short of his best in the scratchy win over Samoa
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England assistant coach Richard Wigglesworth has defended the under-fire Owen Farrell, suggesting that he will have a “massive impact” on their quarter-final against Fiji.
The England captain’s place is under scrutiny ahead of the last eight encounter in Marseille after a lacklustre showing against Samoa in England’s final pool fixture.
Farrell surpassed Jonny Wilkinson as his country’s leading test points scorer in the win, but the reuniting of the Saracen with old playmaking partner George Ford at ten and 12 failed to get England’s attack clicking as hoped.
Wigglesworth, a former teammate for club and country, expressed his belief that Farrell’s big game experience and leadership are likely to prove vital for his side on Sunday.
England suffered a first ever defeat to Fiji in their final warm-up fixture ahead of the tournament but will know that a last four place is theirs for the taking.
“He’s a winner,” Wigglesworth said of Farrell’s qualities. “That term gets thrown around quite a bit, but that is Owen.
“He, under the harshest of pressures and biggest of moments, tends to get better. That is a sign of a winner. He doesn’t just get better but has more of an impact on the people around him as well.
“We know what gets said about Owen. He’s the highest ever points-scorer for England, delivers time and time again, and those players tend to catch the most flak for some reason.
“We’ve got one of the best to do it. We’re lucky to have him. He will no doubt have a massive impact on this week and this game.”
All 33 of England’s squad members – including Sam Underhill, who was called up to replace the injured Jack Wilis on Sunday – trained in Aix-en-Provence on Tuesday morning.
Steve Borthwick’s squad will be based in the city, a short drive inland from Marseille, during quarter-final week.
Borthwick has a dilemma over which playmakers to use against Fiji, with Ford withdrawn early during the Samoa win as Marcus Smith came on at full-back and Farrell shifted to fly half.
Owen Farrell (left) became England’s record points scorer during the win over Samoa
Conventional centres Manu Tuilagi, Joe Marchant and Ollie Lawrence have all performed well at various stages of this tournament, and there is thought to be a real possibility that one of Ford or Farrell is omitted from the starting side.
Regardless of any selection calls, Wigglesworth suggested he would be leaning on the pair’s experience and knowledge base ahead of the quarter-final.
“We know we need significant improvement if we’re going to win this quarter-final,” the former scrum half admitted.
“[Ford and Farrell] are two guys that I would lean on in terms of their knowledge, expertise, how well they manage the game and they deal with things really which allows them to work things out.
“We’ll look to adapt as ever and we’ll field the best team that we feel can get the win this weekend.
“Obviously things change with the nature of the side, whether you have more of a ball-playing 12 or a power 12,that’s right across the backline.
“So as ever we have to pick the team to go out and win this weekend, then it’s our job to go out as coaches and give them the best platform to build on.”
England will name their team to face Fiji on Friday.
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