When Jonny Wilkinson split the posts in Sydney ten years ago he did more than send England to the summit of world rugby, he hung a ball and chain around the necks of every fly-half asked to fill those gilded boots. Could it be a decade later that Owen Farrell is ready to liberate the No 10 jersey from the sentence Wilkinson imposed?
When fate calls the teams to order in the World Cup final of 2015, Farrell will be 24, the same age as Wilkinson in 2003. At 21 Farrell is already a formidable exponent of the fly-half trade. Seven of his eight attempts at goal at Twickenham were executed with the same authority once commanded by Wilkinson. The tackle count is equally impressive and arguably carries greater force since the hits are delivered by a frame five inches taller, a factor which might protect against the ravages that claimed the peak years of Sir Clive Woodward's totem at No 10.
Farrell offers Stuart Lancaster and his team mates not only the comfort blanket of near certainty when he lines up those kicks but the prospect of gold when he unloads the kind of drilled pass that sent Geoff Parling galloping clear. If Wilkinson had a weakness it was a failure to fire the imagination with ball in hand. Farrell is showing by increments an expansive side to his game that threatens to end the fly-half debate in the Lancaster era. Perhaps Farrell's most impressive quality is the maturity he shows at such a tender age, an attitude that allows him to go forth unencumbered by the Wilkinson comparison.
"He was a pretty good player. It can only be good to be compared to him," said Farrell. "But I'm my own player and have my own things to work on. I'll keep working on them for a long time. You just want to play the best you can every week." Were it not for the flat vowel delivery of the devout Wiganer, you would have caught the faint echo of Wilkinson himself in the expression of that sentiment. Farrell and this England team are shaping the future according to their own template. The events of Sydney are already tinged with sepia for this crew. Yet the central themes are just the same with work ethic and team spirit to the fore, a credo which ridicules the Jim Telfer interpretation that this is an arrogant ensemble.
As Farrell noted: "A few people piped up didn't they? People can say what they want. I don't think it makes it any better or worse for us. We are not too bothered about expectation. We are more bothered about what we create ourselves. We want to set our own standards. From 1-15 they are all good team-mates. It is brilliant to play in this team because there are great players all over the pitch, willing to put their hands up and do the hard work as well as finish things off. You want to be in the starting shirt but it is all about the team. Everyone has that clear in their minds. We think we are getting better and better every time we step out on the pitch. If we keep improving we think we can be a special team."
So what of Ireland in Dublin and the inevitable comparison with the man regarded as favourite for the Lions No 10 shirt, Jonathan Sexton. "Ireland will be up for it. Sexton is an outstanding player. His controlling of a game is really good. He does a lot of little things that other people don't do. I've watched him for a while now. You can take a lot from him. He has a lot of experience of big games, and knows exactly what he is doing. That is where you want to be."
Farrell Vs Wilkinson
Owen Farrell Jonny Wilkinson
Wigan (1991) Born Surrey (1979)
13 England Caps 91
9.77 Points per game 12.96
How Wilkinson compared with Farrell after his first 13 caps:
0 Tries 1
11 Conversions 31
34 Penalties 33
1 Drop goals 0
127 Points 168Reuse content