World XV v South Africa: Farrell starts to understand the unknowns

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Will we get a glimpse of England's rugby union salvation today, in the unlikely setting of Leicester City Football Club? By bringing together Andrew Farrell and Lawrence Dallaglio to face South Africa, a self-proclaimed World XV have paired two of the most fêted oval-ball captains of the last decade. Those who would support them to rescue the troubled world champions are hoping for the best.

The voluble Dallaglio says he is gradually finding the form he would like, but with the enigmatic Farrell there are enough "known knowns" and "unknown unknowns" to keep Donald Rumsfeld in speeches for weeks.

The 31-year-old former Great Britain rugby league skipper is a dozen matches into his union career with Saracens, and has been careful to avoid uttering anything to the media which might be spun into an unrealistic assessment of what it could all lead to. Will Farrell play in the 2007 Six Nations' Championship or the World Cup? In a rare interview before turning out at the Walkers Stadium against a Springbok XV with five survivors from last week's win over England, he combined caution with a dash of hope.

"To progress any further I need to be playing well for Saracens, and that's my only thought at this moment," Farrell said. "I watched England play [in the autumn internationals] on TV and I think against New Zealand they played very well. New Zealand battered everybody during the four or five weeks and England's performance against them was the best of anyone's. Results didn't go their way, but everybody tends to get carried away with the World Cup as though it's next week. There's 10 games before the World Cup and there's a long time to get things right. I wouldn't be panicking if I was England."

The last thing anyone would associate with Farrell is panic. He maintains that after injury delayed his debut by more than a year since transferring from Wigan until the start of this season he was unruffled by the kerfuffle between his club and England over which position he should play. Saracens were adamant that he would be a No 6, and that they had the agreement of the England head coach, Andy Robinson. Robinson, who as we know now was on borrowed time, appeared to change his mind in a hurry.

"There were discussions between England and Saracens; England wanted me to play 12 and that's about it," Farrell said. "I'd trained as a six in the off-season but, to be honest, it was only me who wasn't bothered. I was really relaxed about the whole thing. Those decisions were going on, I was just glad to be fit. I'm glad at this moment that I am playing 12."

So is he happier there than at six? "No, no, no, I'm just happy to be playing." But he does concede that "being in the back line relates well to rugby league".

Farrell made five appearances as a blindside flanker in September and October before he switched to the backs. Injuries at Saracens meant he had two-and-a-half matches at fly-half in the A-team - "It was a good way of fast-track learning the game," he said - but he has settled at inside-centre over the past month, with a brief substitute appearance and the best part of three full matches in the Premiership.

England indicated they saw Farrell as an answer to their problems with both leadership and the No 12 role when they named him in the elite player squad as early as August 2005 and again this season. Could he have done without that public statement of intent? "No, it was OK. The thoughts of everyone in the England set-up were to do the right thing by myself to provide dev-elopment. The main thing for me is game time and playing."

The World XV include two other recent league converts. One, Queensland Reds wing Clinton Schifcofske, played his first senior 15-a-side match last month. "I've got a bit more experience than him," said Farrell, with a good-humoured smile. "The hardest thing for me in union? Just being patient, to be honest, just being patient. If you get an opportunity you've got to try and take it, but not go out of the way to be involved because that messes up the formation of the team. Where I come from, the ball's in play more and you've got six tackles all the time, so you end up touching it two or three times in a set of six. I think I touched the ball twice in the second half against Worcester, and four or five times in the first half.

"But I'm not fighting my instincts nowhere near as much now. It's coming more natural all the time."