England v New Zealand: Humbled Farrell is handed chance to impress

England's Owen Farrell
England's Owen Farrell
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you can understand how fly-half Owen Farrell may have been a little confused by texts referring to his nomination as world player of the year.

Up until yesterday he was not even deemed good enough to make England’s starting line-up, even though they are in such desperate need of an inventive touch.

In fact, the 21-year-old is not even first choice No 10 at club side Saracens.

Yet Farrell – who takes over from injured Toby Flood against New Zealand tomorrow – found himself bracketed with All Blacks legends Dan Carter and Richie McCaw plus French star Frederic Michalak as one of four candidates for the planet’s best player in 2012.

Undoubtedly talented, it remains a surreal nomination given the oscillations of his calender year so far but perhaps he can rise to the challenge in direct opposition against the irrepressible Carter at Twickenham and show everyone what all the fuss is about.

Regardless, the announcement yesterday has give his Saracens and England colleague Chris Ashton something else with which to tease him.

Farrell was honoured just to have been short-listed.

“I know the other three are three world-class players and it is very humbling to be alongside them,” he said.

“I didn’t really understand it at first. I was getting all these messages and I didn’t know what was going on.

“I get stick from Ashy regardless. The lads have congratulated us and so on, but the main focus is this weekend.”

Farrell has reclaimed the pivotal role for the first time in six Tests after Flood was sidelined by a toe injury suffered in last weekend’s 16-15 defeat to South Africa.

England will otherwise start with an unchanged team, although Northampton lock Courtney Lawes and the uncapped Gloucester fly-half Freddie Burns come onto the bench.

Farrell made his debut in the Six Nations earlier this year and his temperament impressed coach Stuart Lancaster as he guided England to victories over France and Ireland from fly-half.

He was dropped after England’s first Test defeat to South Africa on the summer tour but played a key role off the bench in a 14-14 draw with the Springboks in Port Elizabeth.

Farrell was inadvertently in the spotlight against them again last week when the replacement was seen questioning captain Chris Robshaw’s decision to kick a late penalty when England trailed 
16-12 with two minutes to go.

He played that down yesterday, saying he was “on the other side of the pitch trying to get the ball back” by the time the call was made and, whatever the decision, “we back our captain”.

For his part, Lancaster sees no reason why the Wiganer cannot slot in seamlessly tomorrow and rediscover some of the form which put him so high in the thinking of the International Rugby Board for their prestigious award.

“Owen had an outstanding season in the Six Nations. He contributed massively,” he said.

“I don’t think his form dropped off as many suggested at the end of last season. He had had a long, hard season.

“He had a slow start to his season with a shoulder injury but in the last four weeks he has been outstanding in training.”

New Zealand also named their team yesterday and Carter will start at Twickenham after recovering from an Achilles injury as the All Blacks aim to extend a 
20-Test unbeaten run.

England head into their final game of the QBE autumn series on the back of frustrating defeats to Australia (20-14) and South Africa and conceding a gulf of experience to the All Blacks.

“We are ready for it,” Lancaster added. “We felt we had put in a performance that deserved a win last week and it is about using that frustration in a positive way.

“Nothing is bigger than the All Blacks at Twickenham. We want to give the crowd something to shout about and a win.

“It will be a huge challenge this weekend. We will need to be at our best in all areas to take on a formidable challenge in the All Blacks. They are at full strength.”

Lawes returns to the match-day squad in place of Mouritz Botha after recovering from a knee injury he suffered in his last game for Northampton before the autumn series.

The Saints lock has endured an injury-hit 2012, with a shin problem limiting him to just one bench appearance in the Six Nations and ruling him out of the summer tour. Burns, who comes into the squad for Flood, has been in prime form for Gloucester this season and is the leading points scorer in the Aviva Premiership.

England: Goode; Ashton, Tuilagi, Barritt, Brown; Farrell, B Youngs; Corbisiero, T Youngs, Cole, Launchbury, Parling, Wood, Robshaw, Morgan. Replacements: Paice , Wilson, Vunipola, Lawes, Haskell, Care, Burns, Joseph.

New Zealand: Dagg; Jane, C Smith, Nonu, Savea; Carter, Smith; Woodcock, Mealamu, Franks, Retallick, Whitelock, Messam, McCaw, Read. Replacements: Coles, Crockett, Faumuina, Romano, Vito, Weepu, Cruden, B Smith.