England v Wales, Six Nations, February 25
Lancaster: Farrell switch is not a gamble
February 24, 2012
Owen Farrell will become the latest player to fill the England No.10 shirt against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday © Getty Images
England coach Stuart Lancaster has heaped praise on fly-half Owen Farrell as the 20-year-old prepares to inherit the all-important playmaker role for the first time.
Farrell completed a meteoric rise by making his Test debut in England's opening Six Nations victory over Scotland earlier this month. He delivered an assured in England's midfield and backed it up with a match-winning 14-point haul with the boot against Italy the following week. The pressure is set to increase this weekend with an injury to fly-half Charlie Hodgson prompting a switch to the No.10 shirt but Lancaster insists it is not a gamble.
Lancaster believes Farrell has the temperament and the ability to step into the pivotal role just two matches into a burgeoning Test career. "It is a great testament to him as a person, his game understanding, his core skills and his temperament that he is able to do it," Lancaster said. "No-one is concerned in the slightest. As a management, we know he is a quality player and a grounded person. It's a great opportunity for him and I'm sure he'll be excited by it."
Farrell's temperament and relentless pursuit of excellence has already seen him compared with Jonny Wilkinson by ex-England flanker Richard Hill and former Wales fly-half Neil Jenkins. Lancaster was wary of echoing those thoughts, preferring to let Farrell carve his own niche in the famed No.10 jersey.
"I wouldn't want to compare any young player to Jonny Wilkinson because I think it sets them up. Owen Farrell is Owen Farrell," Lancaster said. "Owen has got the ability to deliver quality passes, put people through gaps and play the ball. His core skills, his basic skills, are very good. He is one of the best young players I've ever coached in that regard."
Farrell has not shown the best of that all-round game for England in their tight wins against Scotland and Italy. Tomorrow, he will pilot the most inexperienced England starting line-up in the championship for 23 years, with just 182 caps in the starting line-up compared to Wales' 488.
Farrell will be one of seven players making their first Test start at Twickenham - but he does have big-match experience with Saracens, including last season's Aviva Premiership final.
And Lancaster was in bullish mood following England's hard-fought wins against Scotland and Italy. "This is a very exciting crop of young English players coming through," he said. "We want to play a brand of rugby that excites the crowd."
Farrell's switch to fly-half opened the way for Manu Tuilagi's return at outside centre while Ben Morgan, Lee Dickson and Geoff Parling will all make their first England starts.
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