Ireland v England, Six Nations, February 10
Catt: Owen Farrell is in the Lions mix
ESPN Staff
February 6, 2013
England's Owen Farrell celebrates with his team-mates, England v New Zealand, Twickenham, England, December 1, 2012
Owen Farrell shone against Scotland as England built on their win over the All Blacks © PA Photos

England coach Mike Catt has backed Owen Farrell to deliver once again on the Test stage when he comes face-to-face with Ireland's Jonathan Sexton at the weekend.

Sexton is widely perceived to be the front-runner for the British & Irish Lions' fly-half berth but Catt claims that Farrell is hot on the Leinster-man's heels. Farrell was given the Man of the Match award for his performance in England's opening match of the Six Nations against Scotland where the Sarries half-back slotted 18 of their eventual 38-point total.

Catt has worked hard with Farrell and rates him as a player of rare talent and temperament, qualities he has only previously seen in Jonny Wilkinson.

"I guess a lot of people are going to look at it as a head-to-head thing from a Lions point of view," Catt said. "Both played exceptionally well last weekend and it is another game for both to put their hands up and say: 'right, take me on the Lions tour'.

"Owen's mental toughness is exceptional. I haven't (come across many players like that). Wilko was one of them. He is such a focused individual, he is so good at blocking out all the hype and everything that goes with it. He won't worry if it is Dan Carter, Sexton or Ronan O'Gara opposite him.

"What we want from our 10s is that ability to play flat or sit back in the pocket and kick. It's about getting that balance right at Test level, that's where Sexton is so very, very good. Now, it's about making sure these young (England) guys see it too. We're focusing on the detail of how to break down defences and that is helping him. Owen's enjoying himself at the moment, he's buzzing like everyone else."

Farrell has a reputation of being a steady, kicking fly-half but against Scotland he played flat to the line and showed a variety in attack previously unseen in England colours. Catt believes this new approach, with forwards encouraged to off-load and shift the point of attack, played a huge part in their eventual victory.

"They are slowly starting to understand about speed of running, tempo, that sort of stuff. That's the detail we've gone into," Catt said. "It did help with the speed of the ball which meant Owen could come on to the ball much flatter and bring everyone else on to the gain line.

"You've got to remember where this team's come from. It's only a year down the line and they're producing some fantastic performances. All credit to them. I think it's remarkable they've got this far."

Ireland are not short of game-changing match-winners either. Veteran centre Brian O'Driscoll was in imperious form in Saturday's victory over Wales and England are aware of his qualities.

"O'Driscoll is playing exceptionally well at the moment. I thought that first half Ireland produced was exceptional," Catt said. "We know they are capable of doing that. But we need to focus on our attacking game too, which went pretty well against the Scots, and try and starve them of the ball so they can't do what they are good at. It is a little game of chess we have to try and win."

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