James Lawton: In Owen Farrell England may have found a new messiah, but beware painful hangover of hubris
The way Owen Farrell ran and passed the ball gave the team a new dimension
There is always a need, even a duty perhaps, to wait and see with England. They are, we have to remember, historically susceptible to a bad case of hubris.
It can hit them as hard as some flanker half-crazed by the smell of their blood, and anyone who forgets this need only go back to the Auckland jetty a little more than a year ago when Manu Tuilagi dived off a ferryboat to crown one of the most dire misadventures in the history of English sport.
That may seem rather a long time ago in the bright light of the rehabilitation worked by head coach Stuart Lancaster but it is still a little early to put all caution aside. Scotland may have been stirred to put down the "arrogance and pretentiousness" of their Twickenham hosts, but they have lacked the means for some time, and if England touched the magisterial so recently in the defeat of the world champions we still don't know for sure how much of that had to do with battle-fatigue and illness in the All Black ranks.
However, this last weekend we had reason to celebrate something which carries us to the heart and glory of big-time sport. It was the certainty that a big player had truly arrived. How big? The biggest, the suspicion must be, since Jonny Wilkinson claimed for himself the best hopes of his nation's rugby.
There is an additional bonus. The new messiah is not the second Wilko but the first Owen Farrell and if it is still too early for an unequivocal verdict neither it is too soon to identity the new boy's greatest strength.
It is not the brilliance of his kicking, which already is hitting the relentless standards of his great predecessor, but clearly the mind of a young man who understands his requirement to manage a game.
There were deservedly warm notices for Ben Youngs, who is beginning to remind us of the excitement he created when he first emerged, most notably from beneath the shadow of his own posts, to send away Chris Ashton for a try which shattered Australia, and the thrilling debutant centre from Gloucester, Billy Twelvetrees, who brought much honour to a name which would, surely, have been carried proudly by an Apache warrior.
The fluency and increasing bite of Twelvetrees will surely provoke in Lancaster consideration of a re-cast three-quarter line, with Twelvetrees maybe supplanting the extremely worthy Brad Barritt as a potentially more dynamic partner for a returning Tuilagi.
This certainly is a new luxury for a coach who not so recently was required to field three-quarters who might have come straight from some paint-by-numbers evening class. Youngs and Twelvetrees were bursting with initiative and confidence. But then Farrell landed the man-of-the-match award, surely, by a mile.
You see the resolution in everything he does and then when he is interrogated the impression is compounded.
Solemnly, he tells of his obligation to reward the hard work which wins penalties and tries with the most accurate kicking. But it was the way he ran and passed the ball which gave England a new and assured dimension.
His beautifully controlled, try-creating long pass to Geoff Parling was the show-stopper but by then his team-mates had become accustomed to the precision, and the acuity, of his work. His passing and movement carried a sustained intelligence and when he spoke a blessed simplicity of purpose was revealed.
This, of course, wasn't always the case when Wilkinson explained himself. If his place-kicking was metronomic and his defence something that often reminded you of a tank-trap, his theorising on the creative demands of his position was not always the last word in lucidity.
This was never more so than a couple of weeks before he enshrined himself in history with his World Cup-winning drop goal on that rain-smeared night in Sydney. His introspection was intense, if not befuddling, before the quarter-final with Wales in Brisbane and the performance he produced in that match was so lacking in clarity that head coach Clive Woodward sent on Mike Catt to inject a little more coherence.
This is not to demean the achievements of Wilkinson –or suggest for a moment that his successor is destined to supplant his place in the regard of the nation. However, it is to say that Farrell certainly has that potential.
He has outstripped, for some considerable time, surely, the old challenge of Toby Flood and the audacious promise of young Freddie Burns. He has given England the promise of new depth, new, natural-born rugby nous. Next weekend Dublin will tell us more, a lot more, but then where better for a man called Farrell to confirm that he has made his home at the highest level of his game?
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