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The number ten shirt of England. One of the most coveted jerseys in British sport. With it comes expectation, pressure, and the hopes of the red rose faithful. Many sporting greats have worn this talismanic shirt, but no one bought as much respect or glory as Jonny Wilkinson. Winner of the 2003 Rugby World Cup, and second highest points scorer in international history behind New Zealand’s Dan Carter, he was the poster boy of England’s golden generation of the early 2000s. Since his retirement, England have tried numerous combinations at fly half, some with moderate success, most with dismal disappointment.
Now, as England move forward in their Six Nations campaign, they seem to have found their catalyst. Owen Farrell has been England’s first choice fly half for just over a year now, and has shown maturity and growth beyond his 21 years. His steadfast tackling, and ruthless efficiency with the boot, has been at the centre of England’s steady rise in form of recent months, and he was instrumental in their now famous 38-21 victory over World Champions New Zealand back in November.
His performances so far in the opening two rounds of the RBS Six Nations 2013 have been solid, and perhaps some would argue inspiring, and for different reasons. Against Scotland, he showed vision and accuracy, both with his goal kicking and passing, which included a torpedo ball out to second row Geoff Parling right on the Scottish five metre line, which led to an English try. In Dublin a week later, there was little in the way of flair, but in torrential Irish rain, there never was going to be the scintillating style we had seen from England or Ireland in the previous round. What we did see however, was an example of how mature Farrell’s game management and perception has become. Keeping the game tight and forward orientated, Farrell allowed England to gain field position, earn the penalties, and slot the three points. The importance of a reliable goal kicker at international level rugby is unquestionable. New Zealand’s Dan Carter is the prime example, along with Leigh Halfpenny of Wales. And Farrell is not far off from being counted amongst those legends of the modern game. He, like the rest of Stuart Lancaster’s team, has taken criticism and built upon it, moulding himself into a true game changer. The great Jonny Wilkinson was the past. England has a new iceman.