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Lancaster - Players must keep their cool
England coach Stuart Lancaster has reflected on a bad-tempered victory over France by stressing to his players the need to maintain their composure in the face of provocation.
The short fuse of Owen Farrell, who Lancaster insists has a 50 per cent chance of recovering from a thigh injury for the RBS 6 Nations clash with Italy on March 10, was the greatest source of concern at Twickenham on Saturday. The 21-year-old fly-half was spared a citing for elbowing scrum-half Morgan Parra, but was feisty throughout.
Wing Chris Ashton was also condemned for igniting a late brawl after throwing the ball at Benjamin Fall, but it is Farrell's conduct that has been most heavily scrutinised. "I've spoken to the group generally to make sure that we stay focused on the task in hand," Lancaster said.
"Upon review of the game, we definitely got involved in one or two incidents that we didn't need to. We spoke about that as a group. As an opposition coach and team you've got to do everything in your power to upset and try to niggle the opposition.
"You have to be able to deal with that, keep your focus and deal with the task in hand, letting your rugby do the talking. It's not a big issue, I don't think we have a big fundamental disciplinary issue at all. In the context of the game, we were challenged by a very, very good French side and were delighted to come out on top."
Farrell's involvement in the penultimate assignment of England's attempt to claim their first Grand Slam in a decade is in doubt as he continues his rehabilitation from the quad strain that cut short his afternoon against France.
Lancaster names his team to face Italy next week and will give the Saracens playmaker every chance to prove his fitness, with Leicester's Toby Flood on standby in case he fails to recover. "Owen's making good progress, he's probably 50/50 for the Italy game. In the next week he'll be running around okay. The issue will come when he has to kick," he said.
"We have to make sure that it's healed properly so that it doesn't break down again through kicking. Being a fly-half, that's obviously an important part of the job. We'll have to wait and see how that settles down towards the second half of the week."
If Farrell is ruled out and Flood promoted to the starting XV, the hope will be that Freddie Burns proves on his return for Gloucester against Bath on Friday night that he is ready for a spot on the England bench. Burns has been sidelined for six weeks with a knee problem but has been cleared for a return to Aviva Premiership action.
"From our point of view we need to look at Freddie's performance. We have other options on the bench who can cover 10," Lancaster said.