Owen Farrell has been backed to put his hand up for British and Irish Lions Test selection when he goes head-to-head with Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton in Dublin on Sunday.
OWEN Farrell has been backed to put his hand up for British and Irish Lions Test selection when he goes head-to-head with Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton in Dublin on Sunday.
Sexton is seen by many as the favourite to be the Lions’ Test fly-half against Australia this summer, but England’s skills coach Mike Catt believes Farrell is hot on the Irishman’s heels.
Catt has worked hard with Farrell and rates him as a player of rare talent and temperament, qualities he has only previously seen in Jonny Wilkinson.
“I guess a lot of people are going to look at it as a head-to-head thing from a Lions point of view,” Catt said. “Both played exceptionally well last weekend and it is another game for both to put their hands up and say: ‘right, take me on the Lions tour’. Owen’s mental toughness is exceptional. I haven’t come across many players like that. Wilko was one of them.
“He is such a focused individual, he is so good at blocking out all the hype and everything that goes with it. He won’t worry if it is Dan Carter, Sexton or Ronan O’Gara opposite him. What we want from our 10s is that ability to play flat or sit back in the pocket and kick. It’s about getting that balance right at Test level, that’s where Sexton is so very, very good.
“Now, it’s about making sure these young England guys see it too. We’re focusing on the detail of how to break down defences and that is helping him.”
Farrell kicked 18 points in England’s opening RBS Six Nations win against Scotland on Saturday, but it was his enhanced attacking play which really caught the eye.
Meanwhile, Rob Kearney has ended speculation over his future by signing a new contract with the Irish Rugby Football Union that will keep him at Leinster until 2015. The 26-year-old full-back’s decision to stay in Dublin will have been welcomed by the IRFU after Sexton revealed 11 days ago he would be joining an overseas club at the end of the season.
Kearney, who made 45 Test appearances including three Lions caps, is one of Ireland’s highest-profile players and reacted to Sexton’s forthcoming departure by warning the IRFU his Leinster team-mate could be the first of several Irish players to accept a lucrative offer from the French Top 14. However, the 2012 European player of the year has chosen to accept improved terms from the IRFU.