OWEN FARRELL last night diffused any potential controversy going into England’s crucial autumn international with Samoa by giving his successor in the fly-half’s jersey his backing.
Farrell’s form and subsequent move to inside centre to make way for George Ford at No 10, has been one of the big talking points leading into a game of great importance given England’s need to end a run of five straight defeats.
Farrell and Ford go way back –they were good friends at school and also helped England’s Under-20s reach the final of the junior world championship in 2011.
They have seemed destined to play in the 10 and 12 shirts for England ever since, but the circumstances about how the pairing has come about this time has not been without intrigue.
Farrell’s loss of form has been stark and many critics believe he is lucky to have a place in the team at all, with head coach Stuart Lancaster forced to defend his decision earlier this week.
Ford is the Aviva Premiership’s in-form fly-half, and has been told “you’re the boss, so get bossing” by Lancaster as the head coach seeks to address the lack of tried and tested depth in the position.
As Lancaster’s first choice 10 for most of his reign, Farrell has become accustomed to the role of team general and the vocal 23-year-old is at ease with the responsibility of giving orders.
But against the big-hitting Pacific Islanders he must play second fiddle at inside centre, taking directions from Ford and relinquishing the goalkicking duties he treasures.
Farrell said: “It’s George’s first start so it’s good for him to have the whole responsibility. I know he’ll be brilliant.
“He’ll love it and it’s good that he’s going into the game with the whole package.
“I agree with what’s happening. I’ll concentrate on my job, which is helping him out.
“I like the responsibility of goalkicking, but I’ll not be too downhearted about not doing it because I have a job to concentrate on.
“If George asks me if I want a crack at one, I’ll say yes. Him doing the kicking hasn’t stopped me practising this week, but I’m sure I won’t be needed.”
Despite his competitive nature, Farrell – who has been a constant of the Lancaster reign since February 2012 – does not resent losing his cherished fly-half jersey to his former England age grade team-mate.
“I’m chuffed to be playing,” said Farrell, who also revealed his frustration at suffering cramp late in games, as he did last week against South Africa.
“I didn’t for one second think that even if things were going brilliantly and we were winning every game that I was going to start every game from now until whenever.
“I’ve never been that naive to think I’d play every game. This is a chance to try something different.”
Lancaster has been longing for the chance to start Ford and Farrell as twin playmakers, a partnership that has been seen only briefly during the 21-year-old Bath star’s previous appearances as a replacement.
Lancaster was forced to deny Farrell is ‘undroppable’ in response to his poor performances in the three-point defeats by New Zealand and South Africa.
Former England scrum-halves Austin Healey and Matt Dawson have also questioned the logic of picking a fly-half like Ford, who stands flat and attacks the line, only to then deploy a limited offensive midfield outside him in Farrell and Brad Barritt.
There is also a sense of stagnation as Farrell and Barritt was the centre combination used by Lancaster in the first two games of his reign in February 2012.
But Lancaster, the former Leeds player and head coach, referenced Mike Catt’s occasional presence alongside Jonny Wilkinson in the 2003 World Cup-winning team in explaining the need to develop the option of having two fly-halves in the backline .
From Farrell’s perspective, he sees the relationship like this: “As far as I see it you’ve got another 10 playing at 12. A lot depends on what you want from your 12.
“I’m not an out and out classic centre. What we will try to do is get some organisation to hopefully give a couple of options. I’ll obviously be playing one pass out, but still be playing the same way.
“I don’t think I’ll pipe down, it’ll be a different way of talking, more about feeding information in.
“It will be more about giving George options.”