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We cannot let England bad boys become new normal

Neil Francis


Take heed: Referee Ben O'Keeffe has a word with England captain Owen Farrell

Take heed: Referee Ben O'Keeffe has a word with England captain Owen Farrell

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Joe Marler

Joe Marler


Take heed: Referee Ben O'Keeffe has a word with England captain Owen Farrell

This one is about the bad guys and the good guys but mostly the bad guys.

One of the all-time great movie moments is the TruCoat scene in 'Fargo'.

William H Macy plays a fraudulent car salesman who had deceitfully sold a TruCoat sealant on a car to an unsuspecting customer.

When the man arrives to collect his car, he is informed that there is TruCoat on his vehicle and that would be extra - even though he didn't order it. After a row, Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) says he will go inside and talk to his boss.

Macy idles into the kitchen where he encounters another salesman who is horsing into a cheeseburger while watching an ice hockey game.

"You going to watch the Gophers this Sunday?" intones Macy.


"Got a spare ticket?"


A minute later, Macy walks back out and says that his boss will cut $100 from the price of the car - that was the best deal he could cut.

I could have sworn that Lundegaard was playing in the England versus Wales game earlier this month.

After that now infamous kerfuffle on the English line in the seventh minute - the one where George North knocked the ball on going over the line before Joe Marler grabbed Alun Wyn Jones by the testicles - referee Ben O'Keeffe called Owen Farrell and Alun Wyn Jones together and warned of yellow cards and cautioned about bad sportsmanship and ordered Farrell to talk to his team before he awarded a penalty against him.

Farrell walked back to his line and I had him lip-synced as saying, "Yep" - or maybe he said "TruCoat". Farrell, like Lundegaard, did and said absolutely nothing.

When the person charged with ensuring discipline and rugby ethics is the one subverting it, well then where are you? I don't know Owen Farrell and our paths have never crossed. By all accounts, he is not a bad fella off the pitch - but on it...

North toured with Owen Farrell on two Lions tours. Two successful Lions tours. When you play international rugby there is an unmistakeable bond that you develop with your team-mates. This bond is hermetically sealed when you tour with them.

Sometimes at post-international dinners, it becomes obvious that Lions players are closer to their Lions tour-mates than their own international brothers.

In the Ireland game at Twickenham when Ireland tried to retrieve the game early in the second half, you had that bizarre moment where Farrell was on the Ireland side of the ruck near his line and, untouched by CJ Stander, suddenly decides to attach himself to Stander's leg.

Stander, as we all saw, kept his composure, retreated out of the ruck with Farrell still holding on to him.

Stander used the flat of his palm to try and dislodge England's captain.

Stander, yet another Lions colleague from 2017, dragged Farrell two metres behind the ruck as Jaco Peyper played advantage. We, like the 80,000 in the ground, saw what was happening we just did not understand why.

The call was still "play on" as Marler wandered offside and decided to attach himself to Devin Toner. Toner pushed and pawed him away - the Irish lock still intent on playing the game.

Marler? Well, God only knows what was going through his head. He is a cheeky chap, isn't he? You do get the impression that if the captain is behaving badly well then its OK for everyone to do it.

You get the sense of something about England. A tipping point is not far away. How many bad guys do they have in their team? Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Ellis Genge, Courtney Lawes, Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi - that is quite the quorum. Farrell's predecessor as captain, Dylan Hartley, was another beauty.

Off the field, you had Danny Care and Mike Brown, Harlequins team-mates of Marler, condoning his actions. This pair both have had chequered careers - both with pens in their hands - and they were absolutely certain that Marler was being wronged.

There are, it seems, a reassuring quota of model citizens within the England camp. I'm not sure what they are like off the field but they comport themselves like gentlemen on it.

It is all about riding the line - it is fine and fair to bring an edge and be as competitive as you can be but when you step over the line and do it consistently there have to be heavy sanctions and eventually non-selection… unless the guy in charge sees nothing wrong with it.

While the rugby world sleeps, maybe its masters might draw up a new charter on dealing with poor behaviour before it becomes - and I hate this term - the new normal.

Semper mores boni. Good behaviour always… on the field.

Belfast Telegraph