Jonathan Davies: Farrell can be a force - against all odds

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The Independent Online

Andy Farrell's much-delayed arrival on the union scene is due to get back on track tomorrow when he plays for Saracens' A team. I wish him well, and although many have expressed doubts about his chances of making it I think he'll be a success. More than that; I wouldn't bet against him playing for England in the World Cup next year.

And I was also prepared to make another prediction: that Jonny Wilkinson would be back on World Cup duty for England. Obviously, this was before he injured his knee playing in Newcastle's victory over Worcester on Friday night.

Given his atrocious run of injury luck he must be wondering what he has done to deserve this curse. Fortunately, this was not a recurrence of an old injury. It was his "good" knee, and to have a team-mate fall on it in a ruck is freakish and something that can happen to anyone at anytime.

Thankfully, he had already displayed that he still has what it takes. I was very impressed with his comeback game against Northampton last weekend and, although he left the field dejected after missing a late kick that would have won the game for New-castle, he did more than enough to promise a return to top form.

It would have given him any extra incentive he needs to overcome this latest setback. In a week when Rob Andrew arrived as Twickenham's new supremo the talk has been of his determination to bring a sharp new edge to the running of English rugby.

But nothing will establish his new regime more quickly than the emergence of players with the ability and stature to command international recognition in this vital season.

Andrew has demanded that players prove their international class in the next six to eight weeks. Wilkinson has already given an indication of that, and Farrell should need no further bidding to start catching up on lost time.

Farrell has the extra challenge of a new game yet to be mastered. I can testify to the difficulties of that task even when you are fully fit, let alone recovering from a long lay-off. Some say he has left it too late in his career to make the changeover between codes, but they don't know him. Apart from possessing the full range of rugby abilities he is mentally tough and hard-working.

The odds may be stacked against him, but I'm certain he has still much to offer to Saracens and England. I'm sure he hasn't been twiddling his thumbs during his long break but studying every aspect of his new game.

I understand they intend to play him at No 6, and the position will suit the way he carries the ball and makes the big hits. At second man out in phase-play he has the handling skills and tackling awareness to be very effective. He also has a very good kicking game, and I'm looking forward to seeing such a talent in action again.

I can imagine how he and Wilkinson are feeling this weekend, but few are better suited to handle the pressure. One thing neither can do is live on past reputation. They have to create new ones, quickly. They are not alone. Many England players have found that you can't trade on old glories.

Andrew has destroyed the comfort zone. When I played against him he was always a very determined character, and I believe he has lost none of that steely attitude. He'll be a massive influence from which Robinson and England will benefit greatly. I hope and trust Wilkinson and Farrell will be part of it.

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