Tuesday 23 January 2018

Farrell relishes task of keeping England No 10 shirt

Mick Cleary

The cult of celebrity will never be able to claim Owen Farrell as one of its own, not in the manner at any rate that fame has warped our perspective of Sale's Danny Cipriani, the man who will be opposite the Saracens fly-half tomorrow. It is now five years since Cipriani wore the colours of England and he is still battling to establish himself after a two-year stint in Australia.

A year ago, Farrell was a relative unknown, son of a well-known father but still serving his apprenticeship at Saracens. England's new head coach Stuart Lancaster changed all that in his very first squad announcement, naming the then 20-year-old Farrell as one of 15 changes to the Elite Player Squad. As Cipriani himself has discovered, the wheel can turn alarmingly fast in sport.

It is now Farrell's turn to sneak a glance over his shoulder at those making a pitch for the No 10 shirt, just as he did 12 months ago. Gloucester's Freddie Burns will be in the senior squad to be named next Wednesday by Lancaster; little surprise given that he understudied Farrell on that grand day at Twickenham a month ago when the All Blacks were sent packing.

Farrell (right) had benefited from a toe injury picked up by Toby Flood to step into the front line, and, despite having had a fitful few months himself when he lost his starting place, played with measured ferocity and inner toughness to contribute 17 points to the 38-21 victory. Burns impressed during his 15 minutes on the field, fizzing out one pass that bore the hallmark of a man with rich promise.

Farrell relishes the challenge to his own place, acknowledging that just as he fights for the England No 10 shirt with Flood, so Burns' arrival on the scene is to be welcomed.

"The team is the thing, the only thing that matters," said Farrell. "We all share stuff. You have to. You may be rivals for the shirt but first and foremost you're team-mates. I could see Freddie was ready for his debut during the week. We talked through various calls and stuff, but he knew what he was doing."

Saracens operate a structured rotation policy so Farrell will only get a limited number of opportunities at No 10 before the start of the Six Nations next month. He is untroubled by that.

His formative years were spent darting out of school to watch dad Andy go through his routines with that all-conquering Wigan side. Owen never did get to practise a backward step.

"Yeah, subconsciously I was taking in stuff then, brought up with the view that you work hard and don't let things get to you," said Farrell. "I look at myself after every match. You have to be honest or you'll get nowhere."

Saracens play their last league match at Vicarage Road tomorrow. They will move to Barnet Copthall next month following their Heineken Cup game at home to Edinburgh. There will not be a tearful farewell to Watford.

"We've played well at Watford but it will be nothing like having our own home at Allianz Park," said Farrell. "We pride ourselves on not choosing when or where we turn up to play. We play for each other. That's been the way with England too. It's all about the team." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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