Wiping smile off Farrell's face is the challenge for Scots
Saracens' prospect will make his England debut in the cauldron of Murrayfield but he has vowed to enjoy himself
Friday 03 February 2012
Owen Farrell plans to wear a wide smile as he emerges from the Murrayfield tunnel tomorrow, but whether it will reflect genuine joy or a rictus of terror remains to be seen.
At 20, Farrell is the babe in a new-look England team with an average age of 26, and one of three debutants, the others being team-mate and midfield partner Brad Barritt and Northampton No 8 Phil Dowson. He is also one of five members of the reigning Premiership champions Saracens, the most senior of whom is Lions and former Sale stand-off Charlie Hodgson, 31, winning his 37th cap in a first start since 2008.
Other "senior citizens" in terms of comparison include Tom Palmer (33), David Strettle (28), Mouritz Botha (29) and new captain Chris Robshaw, winning only his second cap at 25.
Watching Farrell in action is rather like seeing his father Andy during his absolute pomp in rugby league for Wigan and Great Britain. The confidence, the accurate kicking, both at goal and from hand, the intelligence under pressure, the defence, and that edge truly talented players possess whatever their sport.
Talk to the Saracens head coach and current England attack coach (interim) Andy and you may come away slightly ill at ease without knowing why. The reason is that Farrell's smile excludes his eyes. Farrell Snr is a hard man, a winner and intolerant of idiots and idiotic questions.
He is also only 36, which means he acquired the responsibilities of parenthood at 16. Which explains to some extent why son Owen has no problem whatsoever working under his dad at the club then hunching over a bowl of crisps, watching endless rugby videos with him at home.
Owen has grown up in a professional sporting atmosphere, often accompanying Andy to Wigan training, watching him in action from the terraces and learning all about that very potent and competitive adult environment while still a child.
"My dad has always reminded me that whatever is written or said before a match, once you cross the chalk it's just another game of rugby," Farrell said.
"I have kicked goals in front of 6,000 people at Vicarage Road and 82,000 at Twickenham. Do your job right, adhere to your core skills, and the ball goes over. Allow anything else outside your game to disrupt your focus and it probably won't. I am looking to take in the whole Murrayfield atmosphere and turn my nerves into excitement. I make sure I walk out on to the field wearing a smile. This is why you play rugby, to enjoy these special occasions.
"I am looking forward to getting stuck in. Stuart Lancaster has put a system in place where players can go out and express themselves, and I am really looking forward to being part of that."
Head coach (interim) Lancaster possesses a strong belief in the core skills and courage of his youngest selection. "Owen likes to be first or second receiver," he said. "He has a great skill-set, great distribution and is a natural kicker of a ball, at goal or out of hand. His tactical kicking is top drawer."
Farrell is determined to live up to his father's reputation and achievements which include overcoming two years worth of injury setbacks when he joined Saracens in 2005 to win eight England caps and play in the 2007 World Cup. And he is not ashamed to admit to a burning ambition to wear the red rose as a second generation England international.
"It has always been a motivation. I never knew when I'd get my chance, but from a kid you have always dreamed of playing for England, you always dreamed of putting the white shirt on, you always dreamed of playing at the best level you can do. To wear that rose on your chest is massive," Farrell said. "And having four team-mates from Saracens in the starting XV is a massive plus. We know each other inside out now. We have been playing together all this year and all pre-season. It is not just that we enjoying playing together, we are good mates. When you go out there to play big games you put your body on the line for your mates."
Farrell may find that more accurate a prediction at Murrayfield than many other venues as they meet a Scotland squad still seething about how they managed to throw away two World Cup games they should have won, against Argentina and England.
Scotland field a side whose average age is two years older than England's and who have more than twice as many caps in their ranks. If you can sidestep all the smoke, bagpipes and bull droppings surrounding this fixture you will discover that Scotland are a strong, solid and hugely experienced team who will have achieved maximum marks from coach and former teacher Andy Robinson for their England homework.
Robinson rolled a little grenade into Lancaster's new environment when he accused some England players at the 2011 World Cup of being arrogant.
Farrell was not in New Zealand for that unfortunate circus of on and off-field chaos, nor were six of his team-mates. But had he been, Farrell would simply consider the accusation and smile. Not the eyes, however, never the eyes. Like father...
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