Farrell at 10 as England boss goes for broke
England interim coach Stuart Lancaster made the biggest call -- and potential gamble -- of his short tenure when he yesterday named 20-year-old Owen Farrell to start at out-half at Twickenham tomorrow against an explosive Wales team tilting for a Triple Crown.
Showing four changes, it is the youngest side England have fielded in the Six Nations and, with only 182 caps, the most inexperienced since 1989. Seven of the XV have never started a Test at Twickenham.
Lancaster had the straightforward option of promoting the squad's most experienced player, Toby Flood, from the bench to replace Charlie Hodgson, who was ruled out yesterday after damaging a finger in a training incident three days earlier.
Instead, the coach has gone for broke, stating that this is a team for the future as well as for the moment and that he will back them come what may. It was a ringing declaration of intent, with interviews for the permanent head coach position imminent.
Lancaster has charged these tyros with going out to express themselves, to win over a Twickenham crowd dulled by the World Cup experience -- and eight years of mediocrity.
"We've got to stick with them, have faith in them, believe in them," Lancaster said. "Self-belief can carry a team a long way. There is to be no fear of failure in there, only an opportunity to succeed. It was never a question of if we were ever going to do this, only when."
That moment arrived before breakfast when Hodgson reported that the finger that got caught in a team-mate's shirt in an unopposed session on Monday, spraining as well as cutting it and needing six stitches, had not healed.
Lancaster did not hesitate, moving Farrell across to the kingmaker's role, into the shirt first worn by Jonny Wilkinson at a similar age, and promoting Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi in the process.
The chance to get Tuilagi into a starting role was as much a factor in the eventual midfield line-up as was Farrell's suitability for the job.
No-one would have batted an eyelid if Flood had been drafted. Instead the eyes of the rugby world will be trained on Farrell at 4.0 tomorrow.
Lancaster shied away from comparisons with Wilkinson, insisting that Farrell had his own virtues and that he ought not to be considered merely as a kicking out-half.
"I wouldn't want to compare any young player to anyone else because it sets them up," Lancaster said. "Owen Farrell is Owen Farrell. He's got a great temperament."
As expected, Lee Dickson steps in at scrum-half over Ben Youngs, Ben Morgan takes over at No 8 from Phil Dowson, with Geoff Parling replacing Tom Palmer in the second-row. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
England (v Wales) -- B Foden; C Ashton, M Tuilagi, B Barritt, D Strettle; O Farrell, L Dickson; A Corbisiero, D Hartley, D Cole; M Botha, G Parling; T Croft, C Robshaw (capt), B Morgan. Reps: R Webber, M Stevens, C Lawes, P Dowson, B Youngs, T Flood, M Brown.