Farrell could be handed keys to No 10

Flood is in pole position to fill Wilkinson's boots, but young son of England coach may be the future

Twenty-four hours after announcing his retirement from international rugby, Jonny Wilkinson last night found himself playing in something that looked suspiciously like an international back division – a Toulon unit featuring two three-quarters who were involved in the recent World Cup in New Zealand, the French wing Alexis Palisson and the Fijian centre Gabiriele Lovobalavu, plus a Wallaby midfielder who surely should have been there in the shape of Matt Giteau.

As Wilkinson and company were tangling with Agen, one of the form teams in France, in a rearranged Top 14 fixture – an outbreak of mumps forced the postponement of the fixture in September – the men he left behind on the far side of the water were wondering how to shape England's future in the post-Jonny era. Toby Flood of Leicester, the one-time Wilkinson understudy who performed better than the 2003 World Cup winner at the recent tournament only to be overlooked by Martin Johnson and his fellow selectors, is the obvious front-runner for the No 10 role in the forthcoming Six Nations Championship, but the red-rose caretaker coaches will need options.

There is no immediate sign of Danny Cipriani being reintegrated into the international set-up, even though the occasionally wayward Londoner is mad keen on a return now that the Johnson regime has run its course. Cipriani's preference for southern hemisphere Super 15 rugby over the slightly different form of the game seen in the Aviva Premiership is likely to remain a stumbling block, and if his Australian team, the Melbourne Rebels, start playing the multi-talented Wallaby back James O'Connor at outside-half, he will find himself short of a stage on which to perform.

Owen Farrell, the 20-year-old son of the interim England assistant coach Andy Farrell, is the young No 10 with momentum behind him, and if he turns in another top-notch display for Saracens in their tough Heineken Cup game against Ospreys in Swansea on Friday night, he will be close to nailing a place in the 32-man elite squad due to be announced early next month.

Especially as other contenders are few and far between. Charlie Hodgson is playing some terrific stuff, also on behalf of Saracens, but a recall to national colours at 31 is not obviously a forward step along the road to the 2015 World Cup. A third member of England's champion club, Alex Goode, is also a natural playmaker, but he spends virtually all of his time at full-back these days. Ryan Lamb of Northampton still has much to prove, while the gifted Gloucester pivot Freddie Burns and the Harlequins youngster Rory Clegg, last summer's first choice at second-string Saxons level, are barely out of nappies.

It is at times like this when Stuart Lancaster, the caretaker head coach, must look at the phalanx of foreign outside-halves in the Premiership – Stephen Donald at Bath, Nick Evans at Quins, Jimmy Gopperth at Newcastle and Daniel Bowden at London Irish are all New Zealanders – and wonder whether the English Qualified Player scheme is working quite as well as some people make out.

Which is probably why Lancaster intends to travel to the Mediterranean to pick Wilkinson's brains on all things connected with the No 10 position. "Jonny will continue to do great things at Toulon and I'd like to go and see him in France and learn from his vast knowledge, from his experience of 13 years at the very top of the international game," the Cumbrian said yesterday. "He ranks as one of England's greatest ever players and while he will of course be remembered for that drop goal (the World Cup-winning strike in 2003) he was, and is, more than that. He is a model sportsman, down to earth and hard-working, who has never stopped trying to be the best that he can."

Lancaster's stated determination to restore some discipline and integrity to the England group after the subterranean standards set by the World Cup party has been tested almost immediately. Danny Care, the Harlequins scrum-half who missed the New Zealand tournament through injury but is certain to be included in the Six Nations squad, was arrested on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly following his club's Heineken Cup defeat by Toulouse last Friday night and was given a fixed penalty fine of £80.

Care did not seek to downplay the incident – "It was a silly thing to do; I accept that and apologise completely," he said – and is now waiting for his club's internal disciplinary process to kick into gear. The incident occurred only a few days after the Quins No 8 Nick Easter admitted he may have been the man who uttered the now infamous line about £35,000 disappearing "down the toilet" after England's quarter-final defeat by France at the World Cup.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all