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England slams Farrell critics and SF underdog status at Rugby World Cup

Owen Farrell Owen Farrell - The Canadian Press

MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Booing by England supporters greeted the name of captain Owen Farrell when the team was announced before their Rugby World Cup quarterfinal in Marseille on Sunday.

Farrell is a divisive figure for his tackling technique, captaincy of a medicore team, and debate about his best position. He was suspended for England’s first two Rugby World Cup games and in his absence George Ford impressed in wins against Argentina and Japan.

But Farrell and England had their best performance in two years on Sunday to beat Fiji 30-24 and reach the semifinals.

Farrell’s drop goal in the 72nd minute broke a 24-24 deadlock, and his 78th-minute penalty ended Fiji hopes. Farrell hauled in 20 points.

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He doesn’t have to prove anything, England attack coach Richard Wigglesworth said on Monday.

“The tallest trees catch the most wind and he seems to catch a fair bit,” Wigglesworth said. “He is incredibly serious about his career, he’s an incredibly proud Englishman . . . and he was brilliant for us as we knew he would be.

“That was the maddening part of any noise, we knew what was coming.”

Wigglesworth gave the inside backs combination of Farrell, Manu Tuilagi and Joe Marchant a pass. Tuilagi and Marchant scored England’s only tries in the first 23 minutes.

“It was good at times; we created a few opportunities that we didn’t take,” he said. “We looked reasonably sharp early on. We just need to make sure there is a balance. What that looks like this week might be different from last week in terms of what the opposition pose and what we want to do with the ball.”

They face South Africa on Saturday in Paris. They were crushed by the Springboks in the 2019 final in Japan and Wigglesworth brushed off England being a heavy underdog.

He said he was reassured by England’s experience of tight matches and record of winning World Cup knockout matches.

“Why does everyone turn up to sport? Because you don’t know the result beforehand,” he said. “It would be boring if you knew the result, wouldn’t it? We are not there for a holiday; we are not there just to turn up.”