One year on from an exemplary debut in the white-hot cauldron of Murrayfield, Owen Farrell begins his second Six Nations campaign as one of the most talked-about goal-kickers in the game.
The 21-year-old son of former rugby league star and now England coach Andy Farrell, started at centre 12 months ago before succeeding Charlie Hodgson in the fly-half position two games later.
Such has been his importance to Stuart Lancaster’s developing team, he played in every game in 2012, and the Saracens playmaker is already drawing comparisons with Jonny Wilkinson.
Farrell has drawn praise for both his temperament and competitive spirit, attributes he learned from his father.
When asked about how he thinks he has improved as a player in the last year, though, he is quick to divert the focus.
He said: “As a group we feel like we’ve hit the ground running this week whereas this time last year we were almost starting from scratch, learning basic calls and still getting to know each other.”
He certainly seems to be keeping his feet on the ground, which is not an easy task when you have been nominated for the 2012 IRB Player of the Year award, alongside All Blacks’ Richie McCaw and Dan Carter and Frenchman Frédéric Michalak.
Farrell certainly justified the nomination, scoring 17 points in England’s record 38-21 win over New Zealand on December 1.
From his 12 Tests to date, Farrell has 38 successful kicks from 47. Impressive stats indeed for one so young.
Perhaps even more impressively, Farrell scored 32 points from 11 attempts at goal last month in Saracens’ 37-28 victory over Racing Metro in the Heineken Cup.
Farrell doesn’t think there is any particular reason for his current run of form.
“Nothing’s changed. I’ve just been making sure I’ve been ticking over and made sure I was in a good place,” he said.
“I slowed it down a bit, broke it down, but nothing too much has changed. I’ve just got into a good run.”
He might not have changed anything in his technique, but Farrell is intent on improving his weaknesses. This desire to keep improving was evident after a game against Munster. Farrell found the European balls being used to be “completely different”.
After those difficulties, he went away and worked on it.
“You have to adjust to it,” he said. “I made sure I focused on what I do well and just slowed it down a bit.
“In big games it’s crucial to score kicks. If you put teams under pressure and it results in a penalty or a try you want to carry on punishing them by rewarding your boys who’ve put the work in by getting the points.
“You just feel like you’re trying to do them justice really.”
Everything about Farrell, his demeanor, character and of course, his kicking, belies his young age.
Even a raucous crowd appears to have no effect on him.
“It doesn’t bother me either way really. As soon as you put the kick over they’re going to cheer anyway,” he said.
The average spread of points in the past four encounters between England and Scotland has been just four. Expect another tight game today – and Farrell’s kicking to be vital.