Stuart Lancaster denies paternal favouritism has any influence over Owen Farrell’s ongoing selection after the Saracens playmaker survived the cull completed by England’s head coach.
Farrell under-performed in the QBE Internationals against New Zealand and South Africa but is not among the five changes made for Saturday’s clash with Samoa at Twickenham despite growing concerns over his fitness.
The 23-year-old, who has started just two matches for Saracens this season because of a thigh injury, has been moved to inside centre with George Ford making his first Test start at stand-off.
Lancaster insists he is willing to drop Farrell if he considers it the correct decision and issued an emphatic retort to speculation that the presence of Owen’s father Andy in England’s coaching team sways his thinking.
“If there’s a perception that I’ve never dropped Owen Farrell, then that’s wrong,” Lancaster said. “He was dropped in South Africa when we were on tour and he didn’t play in any of the autumn internationals in 2012 in the lead up to that New Zealand game.”
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When questioned about the role Andy Farrell has in the selection, Lancaster replied: “Can I put that one to bed, please? I can categorically say that there is no influence of Andy in the selection of Owen whatsoever. I make the decision. I consult (attacking skills coach) Mike Catt more than Andy when it comes to Owen. Mike has his view but I make the decision on it. Andy has a view, but to suggest that he in anyway would influence selection is completely wrong.
“In terms of questioning the integrity of them as a father and son unit in their family, I think that would be com- pletely wrong.”
Farrell and Ford played together for England at age group level and helped the under-20s reach the final of the 2011 Junior World Championship. They have operated in tandem for the senior team but only with Ford coming on as a replacement.
Charlie Hodgson, a former Red Rose stand-off, has questioned how his Saracens team-mate Farrell would react to playing second fiddle to Ford, a player two years his junior, but Lancaster sees no issue.
“George can hold his own, I can tell you. He’ll be the boss and rightly so,” said Lancaster. “He will be taking kick-offs, kicking the goals and everything that goes with it. Owen is a good team player. It’s not about Owen Farrell whatsoever. He just wants to help the team be successful.”
England have made a total of six changes, one positional, to the side defeated 31-28 by South Africa last Saturday. Ben Youngs comes in at scrum-half, replacing Danny Care who has been dropped following a collapse in form. Lancaster has overhauled his back row with James Haskell replacing Tom Wood at blindside flanker and Ben Morgan promoted from the bench to start at No 8. Captain Chris Robshaw is the only survivor.
Wood must settle for a substitute’s role against Samoa and, in the final change, hooker Rob Webber swaps roles with Dylan Hartley.
England team: M Brown (Harlequins); A Watson (Bath), B Barritt (Saracens), O Farrell (Saracens), J May (Gloucester); G Ford (Bath), B Youngs (Leicester); J Marler (Harlequins), R Webber (Bath), D Wilson (Bath), D Attwood (Bath), C Lawes (Northampton), J Haskell (Wasps), C Robshaw (Harlequins, captain), B Morgan (Gloucester). Subs: D Hartley (Northampton), M Mullan (Wasps), K Brookes (Newcastle), G Kruis (Saracens), T Wood (Northampton), R Wigglesworth (Saracens), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester), M Yarde (Harlequins).
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