Favouritism is not a word widely associated with England's new-look squad ahead of the Six Nations Championship – they are likely to start four of their five games as underdogs, beginning with the tough Calcutta Cup match in Scotland tomorrow week – so it seems only right and proper that Owen Farrell, a hot tip for a debut in midfield at Murrayfield, should have to fight for his place in the side rather than be ushered into it by his father. "We'll discuss what's right for the team, what fits with our philosophy, and pick accordingly," said Andy Farrell, the red-rose assistant coach, yesterday.
In truth, Farrell Jnr needs no help from anyone in making a solid case for inclusion, having performed so impressively for Saracens over the last year. When Farrell Snr sits down with the caretaker head coach, Stuart Lancaster, and the forwards specialist, Graham Rowntree, to finalise selection, they will not spend a great deal of time talking through the midfield options, problematic though that area has been for the national team recently.
More thought will be given to the engine room, where lock Mouritz Botha is challenging hard for a place, and the back-row combination, where there is a growing chance that the uncapped Northampton flanker Calum Clark will be involved alongside Tom Croft of Leicester and the Harlequins captain, Chris Robshaw.
Understandably, Farrell the coach was reluctant to be drawn into a discussion of Farrell the player. He did, however, throw an interesting sidelight on their sporting relationship. "Owen is a player I happen to coach, so in that sense he's no different to everyone else," remarked the great rugby league player, whose bold move into union at a late stage of his career was badly undermined by injury. "He was in the Saracens academy when I started coaching, so it's always been this way.
"He's worked hard to be here – like the rest, he has a fierce determination to be the best – but I've made no demands on him as a father. I never took him out on to the field after homework and said: 'Right, we're doing this.' We'd go out only if he asked, which was quite often because sport has always been his interest. It's good when we both get home and I can be a father again, a father who talks rugby with his son. But when he's at the club, or here with England, we have a coach-player relationship. It's been like that from day one."