Stuart Lancaster has sent out a strong message that Owen Farrell is not guaranteed to be England’s fly-half for this summer’s three-Test series against South Africa.
Farrell shone when he stepped into the No 10 jersey for England’s last three Six Nations matches, keeping out Toby Flood and Halifax-born Charlie Hodgson as he guided the team to victories over France and Ireland.
But Lancaster has decided to move Farrell back to inside centre and start Hodgson at fly-half in Sunday’s non-cap game against the Barbarians. Farrell is expected to get some game-time in the pivotal role during the second-half but Lancaster’s move indicates a desire to keep his three fly-halves competitive.
England expect Flood to be fit to travel with the squad after he was named on the bench for Leicester’s Aviva Premiership final against Harlequins today.
“This is an opportunity for Charlie to put a marker down but there is an opportunity for Owen to move to fly-half in the second half,” said Lancaster.
“It is a likely scenario that Owen will be seen in that 10 role. He finished the Six Nations in that position. It is up to the others to prove they should be wearing it.
“They all offer different things. Charlie can play flat to the line, Toby engages defenders and brings huge experience and Owen has a good core skill set and his temperament is excellent.
“Charlie had one of his most enjoyable seasons, he loved being involved with England in the Six Nations and he is desperate to start for England in South Africa. I want to fuel that motivation. If you define the squad early, you potentially shut the door on a lot of players. I will make clear when I meet the players where I see them – but I am open minded.”
Harlequins head coach Conor O’Shea believes today’s Aviva Premiership final with favourites Leicester Tigers will be a game for the purists.
“I am glad for the game that the two teams who really try and play are in the final,” said O’Shea.
“Leicester are the standard-bearers, they are the club everyone else in the country wants to measure themselves against.
“Eight consecutive finals is an incredible record. We feel we are on the start of a journey. We know we are underdogs and we will see how far we have come as a team.”
Leeds Carnegie have signed prop Ben Hooper from Yorkshire rivals Rotherham Titans on a one year contract.
The former Leeds Met student is the younger brother of Leeds legend Stuart Hooper, who was part of the Powergen Cup winning team of 2005 and led Leeds back into the Premiership as captain.