ENGLAND assistant coach Andy Farrell was “gutted” when he found out that Kelly Brown had been dropped by Scotland, and believes the back-row forward’s omission from today’s Calcutta Cup match is “a sad loss”.
Farrell, who coached Brown at Saracens before joining his national coaching team, emphasised that he respected the abilities of Chris Fusaro, who today makes his debut for Scotland in the No 7 jersey that Brown wore in Dublin on Sunday. But he admitted to being surprised by Scott Johnson’s decision to drop his captain, and said that Brown commanded the respect of everyone who knew him.
“I’m gutted for Kelly Brown,” Farrell said at an England press conference in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon. “I know Kelly well and I know what Kelly brings, and I’m slightly surprised at the decision to drop your captain after one game.
“The reason I’m surprised is that I know how Kelly makes a group feel as well. It isn’t just about how you perform, especially captains, it’s how you make other people feel as well, and he’s a special type of bloke like that.
“He’s a good player. If you are in trench warfare, he’s the type of player that you’d want with you. He does put his head where it hurts. I’m sure that the mutual respect that he would have in the group will be a sad loss for everyone that respects Kelly.
“So I’m surprised second game up that this has happened. I think it shows what Scott and his coaching staff want from the game. I think they want a little bit more pace on the ball, specially on the floor. The young kid [Fusaro] has certainly got that, and he’s aggressive at the breakdown. We’ll need to be guarded on that.”
Like Scotland, England lost their opening game, going down 26-24 in Paris. But Farrell and head coach Stuart Lancaster were pleased with many aspects of their team’s performance, especially the way in which they fought back from a calamitous opening spell which saw them go 16-3 down.
“The most pleasing thing for us as coaches is that we played at a hectic pace and we were the aggressors of that,” Farrell continued. “We were the ones who were pushing the pace. That’s the standard that we want to get to. Tidy up a few details and get better.
“Stuart said straight away after the game that he was proud of them, and the more you watch the game, the prouder you become. They showed some balls to go out there and give it a good shot, especially with that start.
“All the stats, from points down and coming back to win the game, are completely against you when you hit a scoreline like that. To not crumble, for one thing, and to get back out there – I thought it was a great measure of the character of the side.
“We want to build on what we started last week. The boys are pretty excited about this one. They’ve had a chance to see and analyse the first game they played, and they can see the good stuff and the stuff they need to improve. The exciting thing is they know they can get better, when they’re pretty pleased with how things went in the first place. I think they’re in a good place. I’d like to think we can be consistent with the performance that we had last week and probably improve a little bit. I think that’s where we need to be at.”
It is doubtful whether either team can turn in a decent performance this afternoon on such a poor pitch, and England may be forced to play at a less hectic pace if they want to achieve control. But they seem unconcerned by the state of the playing surface, and Farrell was disinclined to criticise it.
“It isn’t the best. It was cutting up while we were training there, but it’s the same for both sides,” he said. “It really doesn’t bother us. We’re ready for any type of game. It’s going to take some repairing. I feel sorry for the groundsman.
“When the boys were there running on the pitch today it did look a little bit like Horse Guards Parade in patches. If it does come away underfoot in some parts, let’s hope the scrum can stay away from those parts.”
The same controlled determination was apparent in Farrell when he was asked about some of the baggage that goes with this fixture. No matter how frenzied some of the fans may get, no matter the extraneous elements in the build-up to kick-off, he wants his team to ignore all distractions and concentrate on their own game.
“Last time there was bagpipes playing as the coach came in, and we got in 25 minutes later than what we should do. You expect anything and you get on with it and laugh it off, really,” he added.
“The reality is there is always a type of circus round every game, especially at international level. If something is out of the box, you laugh it off and get on with it. That’s what brings a bit of excitement to the occasion as well.
“We expect a lot of things when we go to the away grounds, like goats getting in the way and bagpipe bands coming across you. If you let it wind you up, then it becomes a distraction.
“We’ve got to make sure that these boys keep learning that it’s just about the 80 minutes. That has been the focus all week.”