World Cup winner Martin Johnson has singled out fly-half Owen Farrell as England’s trump card as Eddie Jones’ men chase back-to-back Six Nations Grand Slam titles.
If selected this weekend by Jones to play against Italy at Twickenham, Farrell will win his 50th England cap; he has also already amassed over 500 international points, appeared at a World Cup and toured with the British & Irish Lions in 2013.
Farrell was selected on a six-man shortlist for World Player of the Year in the summer and despite missing out on the top gong, he has become England’s Mr Reliable.
He has been promoted to England’s vice-captaincy role and skippered the side during the last-gasp win against Wales in Cardiff following the withdrawal of skipper Dylan Hartley after just 46 minutes.
Last week Johnson and legendary Ireland skipper Brian O’Driscoll described Farrell as an outside shot at captaining the Lions this summer in New Zealand, while World Cup winning boss Sir Clive Woodward thinks he’s the heir apparent to Hartley’s leadership crown for England.
“I think he can do either, fly-half or centre, that’s the great thing with him,” said the former England captain, who is running the rule over each of the home nations’ candidates for this summer’s Lions Tour to New Zealand, and picked six of England’s victorious side from the win against Wales in his team of the week.
“I just like his demeanour, I always have.
“He’s been through a World Cup, he’s been around for five or six years now with the England team, he’s very experienced.
“He took a hit from [Ross] Moriarty, that’s that type of game, but he took it, got up and got on with it, and then at the end of the game made the pass when he needed to, to put England in to win the game.
“Whether he is going to get a test jersey this summer, because what you do on the Tour will determine that, I don’t know – but we can rely on him.
“And from what I hear from the camp he is very much a leader now, which is what he should be.”
It was Farrell’s combination with Ford that set up the try for Elliot Daly in Wales, expertly capitalising on Jonathan Davies’ failure to find touch with a kick.
And while the Welshman still made Johnson’s team of the week as well, it was Farrell that was the most talked about centre of the weekend, stealing 62 per cent of the conversation on Twitter to go with his four carries, 11 points, one clean break and one defender beaten.
And Johnson was not short of praise for Farrell’s back colleague Jack Nowell, either, with the Exeter Chiefs man being picked in the team of the week alongside Daly.
“I thought it was one of his best games for England, and England needed that, because they were in a battle with Wales,” admitted Johnson.
“They needed to go forward, they needed impetus, and the other defensive work he did was important, too.
“Sometimes, as a winger, you won’t get that opportunity to score a try, it just won’t happen in tough test matches.
“You may not do that flash thing that everyone remembers, but he did his job for 80 minutes and he got himself involved.”
Joe Marler and Ford were two to make Johnson’s team, but their efforts went largely unnoticed by the watching public, with the fly-half garnering just a seven per cent share of the weekend’s positional Twitter conversation, while the prop fared a little better with 25 per cent.
It was Joe Launchbury that led the social media chatter, though, with the lock the subject of 50 per cent of the conversation, while teammate Courtney Lawes only registered 20 per cent.
The Wasps man led in the stats, too, with 22 metres made from 18 carries, one offload, 23 tackles made, one turnover won and four lineouts to his name.
But despite all that, Johnson still picked Alun Wyn Jones to partner Lawes in his team of the week, rather than Launchbury.
“You know he can produce, he is athletic, he knows how to play and he’s got that about him,” Johnson said of Lawes.
“Joe worked hard, and as a number four that’s what you’ve got to do, you’ve got to graft – second row is an honest position.
“There’s no messing around, you’ve just got to work hard, carry and tackle, and sometimes the game comes to you in terms of numbers.
“Joe had big numbers, but I thought Courtney was probably the pick of them.”