Aidan Smith: Owen Farrell was booed because of the time he took with his kicks

Thirteen seconds. That’s all it took Peter “PC” Brown to ready himself for just about the most famous Scotland kick in the long history of the Calcutta Cup.
England's Owen Farrell in contemplative mode as he lines up a penalty at BT Murrayfield Stadium. He missed. Picture: David Davies/PA WireEngland's Owen Farrell in contemplative mode as he lines up a penalty at BT Murrayfield Stadium. He missed. Picture: David Davies/PA Wire
England's Owen Farrell in contemplative mode as he lines up a penalty at BT Murrayfield Stadium. He missed. Picture: David Davies/PA Wire

Yes, I’m a sad git: I dug out YouTube highlights from Twickenham, 1971 and I timed it. Someone timed Owen Farrell at Murrayfield, 2020 and on social media he was called a sad git, too. The time taken on that first penalty by the England captain? Seventy-three seconds.

Farrell was booed by some home fans before finally striking the ball and after that every time his routine was protracted, which was every time he kicked, he was booed.

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This has caused a right old rumpus. England head coach Eddie Jones complained about the unsporting lack of respect, as did England supporters. Not rugby, was the general gist. Fans can jeer at football matches but not in our sacred game.

Well, rugby since it went professional has managed to acquire a number of football’s bad, or less than noble, habits. This was probably inevitable. Money has a tendency to spoil things.

PC managed to pack a helluva lot into those 13 seconds. He addressed the ball with that funny, ten-to-two, Charlie Chaplinesque, splay-footed stance. He then turned his back on the egg and took three steps. He fluttered his hands. He wiped them on his shorts. He wheeched sweat from his nose. And then he kicked – 16-15 to the Scots.

Now I should say that the available footage does not include “Ma’ Baw Broon” fashioning a little mound with the heel of his boot. But it’s highly unlikely he took very long to do this. He wasn’t Demi Moore in Ghost sensuously moulding the Twickers mud like it was clay on a potter’s wheel – nothing like that.

Kicking is much more scientific now. Some may even claim it to be an art-form. No one today would do what Brown did when he turned round: dithering about, randomly getting into the correct position. They would claim that would inevitably result in a fluffed kick. But Brown’s effort sailed over.

Okay, “sailed” is pushing it. As I’ve remarked before – and I was quite proud of this so I’m repeating it – the kick had the trajectory of the winning effort in the Brigadoon Highland Games’ clootie dumpling-hurling competition. It was ugly and it was bonnie and what’s more it was quick. There was absolutely no time-wasting on Brown’s part to the extent that when he ran back into position for the re-start he shooed away brother Gordon’s attempted congratulations because the game still wasn’t quite won.

I like that rugby’s different from football and hope that as much as possible it stays that way. There are now, though, equivalent versions of football’s “professional foul”: tackling with shoulders rather than arms, blocking the run of a player chasing his own kick. Farrell, in his highly successful career, has not been adverse to such tricks. He’s a formidable opponent, though, and at Murrayfield on Saturday the good and the bad about his game will have been in the minds of those who gave him the bird.

But he was booed because of the time he took with his kicks. As he set up the ball he wasn’t booed. Even as he carefully paced out his run he wasn’t booed. It was only when he began that carefully-ordered sequence of twitches and tics which seemed to have no end that frustration got the better of some fans and they jeered.

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Each to his own. There’s only one PC. But the rules state that 60 seconds are permitted for preparing for kicks and the supporters clearly thought Farrell was taking far too long. So much so that when the stadium announcer urged them to stop booing, they booed that as well.

Did the catcalls put Farrell off? The online debate about the issue was joined by a rugby journalist who recalled the stand-off telling him that he didn’t like complete silence as he was preparing to kick as he found this “unnerving and weird”.

Obviously the conditions – the fierce winds which turned the game into the most boring Calcutta Cup clash of recent memory – would have had to be factored into Farrell’s deliberations as he stood over a ball which sometimes had to be held in position by a team-mate.

There was no shortage of cold air on Saturday. But there had been plenty of hot air in the build-up with all that loose talk of “war”. Jones was heavily involved in this and so cannot have been surprised that the home stands were whipped up to such an extent. They were ready to boo anything they didn’t like and Farrell appearing to ponder life’s inner meaning while the clock ticked down was simply too easy a target.