England’s Rugby World Cup winning fly-half Jonny Wilkinson has given his vote of confidence to Saracens' Owen Farrell to start for England, as selection for the November internationals at Twickenham draws near.
Saracens’ director of rugby Mark McCall says he expects Farrell to return from a leg injury to be on the bench for Saturday’s Premiership match at home to Gloucester, and he will definitely be available for the European tie against Clermont Auvergne on 18 October, allowing the 25-times capped No.10 to state his case ahead of the 22 October naming of the England squad.
Bath’s George Ford has played well in the opening weeks of the season, and he was namechecked by Wilkinson as a rival to Farrell along with Freddie Burns of Leicester and Sale’s Danny Cipriani.
But with the opening autumn Test against the world champions New Zealand on 8 November looming large, Farrell is Wilkinson’s favourite.
Speaking in Newcastle at an event to recruit World Cup volunteers for next year's tournament, Wilkinson, an England Rugby 2015 ambassador, said: “Owen Farrell has served his time, he’s in charge of the shirt and you can’t say he’s really put a foot wrong. He’s taken on huge amounts of responsibility and is happy to put his neck on the line in a sport that can be fairly ruthless, especially with the decision makers responsible for directing the team and largely accountable for what the final score says.
“A young guy who’s willing to do that and has already shown he’s very capable of doing it is a bit of Godsend - you don’t want to throw those away, believe me.”
Wilkinson added: “George Ford has shown he’s equally capable at the high level of club rugby. Freddie Burns had a tough last year with Gloucester, now moved to Leicester and has shown over the summer [on tour in New Zealand] that with the right team round him, you unleash the talent that he has and he’s a special, special player. I’ve no doubt he’ll continue to show that, he’s a very gifted all round player, he has everything you need, you support him and give him a chance to show that, he’ll reward any team that does so.
“Danny Cipriani has great talent and I know he has been working with my mentor, Steve Black. Listening to what Blackie’s saying, he [Cipriani] is a guy that is serious about what he wants. He wants to get to the top of his game, he wants to know at the end of his career that he got as far as he could possibly go, and he wants to do something very positive for his national team. Everybody knows he’s got the ability to do that, and mentally he’s probably as strong as he’s ever been.
“The tick in the box from me would be the guy that’s already there. The [England] guys are used to Owen Farrell, he’s the one that’s moving in the right direction. They’re starting to understand what he likes to do in attack, how he defends, the decisions he’s making, how to support him and how to get the best out of him. So that momentum is something you need to carry on.”
Wilkinson played for England in four World Cups from 1999 to 2011 with varying degrees of success including the famous win of 2003. “You need more than one No.10,” he said. “I think of myself in past World Cups with Paul Grayson and Olly Barkley and Toby Flood – you need them all. These other guys [now] are in there, they also need the opportunity to show what they’ve got and have a bit of field time. It will be interesting to see how the year pans out.”Reuse content