Farrell happy in hot seat
February 23, 2012
Farrell faces the biggest test of his career against Wales © Getty Images
Owen Farrell is confident he can shoulder the play-making responsibility of starting as England's new fly-half in their Six Nations showdown with Wales on Saturday.
Farrell's switch after two Tests at inside centre was prompted by a finger injury to Charlie Hodgson and opened the way for Manu Tuilagi to make his England return in a powerful centre combination with Brad Barritt.
England feature four changes from their 19-15 win against Italy, with number eight Ben Morgan, scrum-half Lee Dickson and lock Geoff Parling all due to make their first Test starts. The final decision to play Farrell at fly-half was taken this morning when Hodgson failed a fitness test on a training ground injury that required six stitches.
England's interim coach Stuart Lancaster could have turned to Toby Flood, the most experienced player in his squad, but he took the bold option of thrusting Farrell into the pivotal role. It will be the biggest test of Farrell`s career to date - but the 20-year-old is relishing the prospect of releasing Barritt and Tuilagi in a potentially seismic midfield showdown with the Wales pair of Jamie Roberts and Jonathan Davies.
"I have always wanted to be a person who guides the team. I have always been a person who speaks up. I have always been loud and to bring as much energy as I can to a game," said Farrell. "You have some responsibility but you have some unbelievable players around you.
"If there was one midfield you were going to play with, I wouldn't want it to be anybody but them. As far as being comfortable is concerned, our midfield is made up of two really destructive players and hopefully it is going to work really well.
"You can be as prepared as you want to be, you still have to stop Manu. They have some powerful centres themselves. It will be a real battle and I am really looking forward to it."
England will field their most inexperienced starting line-up in the championship for 23 years, with just 182 caps in the starting line-up and seven players making their first start at Twickenham.
Wales have more caps on their bench than England do in their starting XV. But Farrell does have big-game experience at HQ, having guided Saracens to last season's Aviva Premiership title with a victory over Leicester.
Farrell was in his first season as a Premiership player but showed an ice-cool temperament that day, as he did in Rome two weekends ago when he landed all five kicks in England's narrow victory. His temperament and dedication has led the former England flanker Richard Hill and the ex-Wales fly-half Neil Jenkins to both compare him with Jonny Wilkinson.
"There are definitely the same characteristics. Both are self-driven with a strong desire to be the best, they are not prepared to accept other peoples' perception of where they could get to," Hill said recently.
Tuilagi, who is back in the England fold for the first time since the World Cup after recovering from a fractured eye socket and hamstring injury, concurred.
"I played with Faz in the England Under-18s. I know him pretty well. He's a good lad and cool-headed, so I'm not surprised he's really confident to kick the points and win games for England," said the Leicester centre.
Tuilagi had been due to start on the bench - but is now relishing the prospect of lining up opposite Roberts and the giant Welsh back line. Whatever tweaks England's brains trust have made to their gameplan, Tuilagi is simply focused on doing what he does best.
"For me, playing rugby is about being physical and Wales have got massive backs, so this is the game I want to play in," said Tuilagi."I was excited when I thought I'd be on the bench, now I'm even more excited.
"Of course it's a different gameplan - but I just want to get the ball in my hands and run. Rugby is simple really - you've just got to keep the ball and score points."
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