Owen Farrell’s no-fear mentality marks him out as a special player in the eyes of England coach Stuart Lancaster – and that is how he will approach tomorrow’s clash with New Zealand.
Farrell will start opposite fellow world player of the year nominee Dan Carter after reclaiming England’s fly-half jersey from the injured Toby Flood.
The 21-year-old’s inclusion on the International Rugby Board’s shortlist for the award alongside Carter, Richie McCaw and Frederic Michalak was as much a shock to him as anyone else. Farrell’s reaction to his nomination was so grounded as to be positively subterranean – and he is not in the least bit fazed about the challenge of taking on Carter and the world champions.
“It is very humbling to be alongside the other players on the list. They are all world class,” Farrell said, after an embarrassed chuckle. “I didn’t really understand it at first. I was getting all these messages and I didn’t know what was going on. The lads have congratulated me and so-on but the main focus is this weekend.
“New Zealand are a world- class team. They are unbeaten in 20 matches. That is the challenge to look forward to. There is no point being scared of it. It’s a game that I love. It’s not a game that I’m scared of. It may be a game against the best team in the world but it is still another game of rugby.”
Farrell was nominated for the award on the back of his Six Nations performances, when he took over at fly-half in his maiden international campaign and guided England to victories over France and Ireland. Lancaster was immediately impressed with Farrell’s temperament and his “warrior spirit”, even when his form appeared to dip on the summer tour.
“He has huge qualities,” Lancaster said. “I don’t think the nomination has made any difference to Owen. It hasn’t made him any more apprehensive or more confident in his own ability. He is a pretty grounded lad. I don’t think he will be getting carried away.”
England: PA Goode (Saracens); C Ashton (Saracens), M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins); O Farrell (Saracens), B Youngs (Leicester); A Corbisiero (London Irish), T Youngs (Leicester), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), T Wood (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Morgan (Gloucester). Subs: D Paice (London Irish), D Wilson (Bath), M Vunipola (Saracens), C Lawes (Northampton), J Haskell (Wasps), D Care (Harlequins), F Burns (Gloucester), J Joseph (London Irish).
New Zealand: P I Dagg; C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, J Savea; D Carter, A Smith; T Woodcock, K Mealamu, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, L Messam, R McCaw (capt), K Read. Subs: D Coles, W Crockett, C Faumuina, L Romano, V Vito, P Weepu, A Cruden, B Smith.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)