- Owen Farrell talks openly about channelling team energy into confident kicking
- "Intensity puts a lot of confidence in everyone’s head" – fly half
“He’s a model professional, he’s got that big game attitude and he does things that other people don’t do on these big occasions.” That was Mike Catt speaking about Owen Farrell the day before he kicked 14 points and outshone All Blacks leading light Dan Carter.
Farrell refutes the suggestion that he is a big game player but admits he draws confidence from the energy and intensity of those around him, which is more outwardly obvious the more important the occasion.
The 21-year-old is able to channel that team dynamism into the individual aspects of his game, none more obviously than when he’s approaching his kicking tee, the loneliest place on a rugby field.
Farrell kicked three penalties from challenging positions in the first half of England’s record victory over New Zealand last time out, but his first attempt was not until the 25th minute. Stuart Lancaster’s side tore into the world champions with a ferocity not seen at Twickenham for some time and you get the impression that, on the back of England’s start, the later in the half the kick was, the higher Farrell’s chance of converting it became.
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“You always convince yourself that you will kick any kick you try – you wouldn’t take it on otherwise – so you’ve always got that inner confidence and will always back yourself, but it helps when the team keeps going forwards,” he said.
“As soon as you set an intensity and pace of game, like we did in the first 10 or 20 minutes of that game, it puts a lot of confidence in everyone’s head. It helps with everyone talking and everyone having so much energy about them. Knowing everyone around you is ready for a big battle, that gives you a lot of confidence.”
But it’s not just for England when he can feed off the strength of others. What did Farrell do when Saracens were faced with a must-win round five Heineken Cup game at Racing Metro and were trailing to two first-half tries? He stepped up and slotted all of the 10 penalties he attempted – a tournament record – as Sarries overhauled the hosts 37-28.
Farrell says England, and Saracens for that matter, are not a team which pick and choose when they want to play. His respect for the game and everyone who plays it means he prides himself on “turning up for every game”, but he accepts the emotional and external energy of big matches make a difference.
The 2011 Aviva Premiership winner said: “There’s certainly more of a bite to the game and sometimes a bit more of a buzz, with the lads knowing they have to switch on and prepare well. That’s how we do it every week but obviously when you play the world champions or you play in big competitions it adds that bit extra.
“When things are going right and there’s a great feeling within the team everyone is upbeat no matter what they’re doing, whether it’s a scrum, lineout, penalty for touch or penalty for goal. One thing we talk about a lot is not putting a negative on a negative but if you do that, almost subconsciously, people’s heads drop a bit, through no fault of their own.”
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In terms of history and tradition, rugby tournaments don’t get much bigger than the RBS 6 Nations, which has been running in some format since 1883. As a 20-year-old debutant, Farrell kicked 63 points and impressed in defence and attack as England won three away games for the first time in history and finished second in the 2012 table under then interim boss Lancaster.
And with England vs Scotland the oldest international of all, dating back to 1871 when Scotland beat England by one try and one goal to one try at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh, Saturday’s tournament opener against the Auld Enemy at Twickenham is just the environment for Farrell to excel.
Scotland have picked a big, abrasive pack and with the grin of someone who relishes the physical side of the game, he added: “There’s a great deal of passion when it comes to these games, and obviously it’s the first game so there’s going to be a lot of built-up energy and that’s going to explode come kick-off time.
“England against Scotland is a great rivalry, I can see us getting stuck into each other, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”