England v New Zealand: Owen Farrell knows he must be better than the perfect 10 at Twickenham
England's young fly-half will have to nail his kicks and cramp the style of his opposite number Dan Carter
If England are to land another solid blow on the lantern-jawed world champions from New Zealand at Twickenham this weekend, it will surely be inflicted by the boot of Owen Farrell.
The men in white win the try-count against the All Blacks about as often as Wigan falls to the Tories on election day – four times in 35 attempts stretching back to 1905 is the grisly statistic – so the young goal-kicker from that most celebrated of northern rugby communities is certain to find himself at the heart of things.
The fact that he must nail his shots from the tee while cramping the style of a rival outside-half as ridiculously gifted as Daniel Carter appears, from the outside at least, to make the burden of responsibility almost too heavy to bear. Yet Farrell has managed it before – he outscored the great man this time last year, and outplayed him too – and judging by his comments, the current owner of the red-rose No 10 shirt is confident of doing it again.
"Carter is a world-class player and has been for a long time," said the 22-year-old, who contributed 17 points to the record 38-21 victory over the New Zealanders last season. "What do I admire in his game? There's not much I don't admire. But I don't see this as being about the two of us: it's not just about the two 10s going at each other – it's not about me versus him. He'll be out there trying to control the game for his team and I'll be trying to control it for mine, but it's not really a personal battle. It's part of a much bigger thing."
All the same, Carter will be winning his 100th Test cap (if selected, naturally) and irrespective of whether he starts the match or joins it from the bench, he will be the emotional centrepiece of the grandest Twickenham event of the year. It is easy to imagine Farrell, just 18 caps into his own international career, spending his more solitary moments musing on the unprecedented achievements of the man from the South Island and wondering whether he might possibly go close to emulating them.
If he does, he is not letting on. Asked whether he spent time watching video footage of Carter at his best – a best that can be better than everyone else's by a country mile, as the British and Irish Lions discovered to their cost in 2005 – he raised the drawbridge. "I watch most games that are on the telly and I always try to take as much information out of them as I can," he responded, reluctant to be heard discussing Carter as some kind of special case. "I'm continually rewinding the tape, trying to work out why things happen the way they do."
His researches have led him to a number of conclusions about the All Blacks' style of rugby and why their methods are so successful. "They kick the ball a lot more than people think," he said. "It's especially the case with them this year. They win a lot of possession from the aerial contest and they're very quick to react to it – very quick at catching teams napping. When you're playing them you have to be just as sharp in switching from attack to defence, because they're ready to go at all times."
Farrell said he would prepare for his goal-kicking duties in precisely the same way as always, despite the fact that each kick on Saturday will be bursting with significance. "There'll be no real change in the mindset," he insisted. "You don't want to miss kicks in any game, do you? We'll go out there intending to play and hoping to score tries. But if it turns out that we win penalties by putting the All Blacks under some heat, I'll be looking to reward the team for their efforts. That's always the case."
And Farrell being Farrell – a tough-tackling breed of No 10 who is every bit as brave as Jonny Wilkinson and at least twice as abrasive – he is thinking as much about his defensive game as he is about his marksmanship. In this regard, he anticipates seeing a good deal of Ma'a Nonu, the ferocious All Black centre who might be described as a weapons-grade version of Manu Tuilagi, the human bowling ball who made such an impact for England in the 2012 version of this fixture.
"Nonu is a player who has everything: he can kick, he passes really well, he has good feet, he's really aggressive, he's a big physical presence for New Zealand," the youngster acknowledged. Then, after a pause, he continued. "So from our point of view, it's about putting him under pressure." There speaks an outside-half blessed with the true warrior spirit.
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