Apr 21, 2015
Owen Farrell's path to the top
In the wake of the news that Owen Farrell has signed a long-term contract with Saracens, we take a look at his pathway to becoming one of the country’s finest players.
It’s been a stop-start affair for Owen Farrell’s 2014/15 campaign so far. The England and British Lions No.10 returned to Saracens matchday 23 man squad for the first time against ASM Clermont Auvergne last weekend, since he sustained a knee injury against the French giants in January.
Farrell has been dictating play for his club and country in the No.10 shirt for over three seasons, but as the 23-year-old playmaker reveals, his journey to one of the world’s finest fly-half’s has been somewhat unconventional.
After playing for local league side Wigan St Patrick's RLFC (and a the odd outing for Hemel Hempstead Stags RLFC), Farrell began life in his new code as a back-rower after following his father Andy down south from his hometown of Wigan when the Great Britain captain signed for Saracens in 2005.
“When I first started playing the game I didn’t really know where to start,” said Farrell. “At the time I’d never played Rugby Union so I didn’t even know what a back rower was - these blindside’s, openside’s – I’d never heard of them.
“I would have been about 12. When I first came down south. I remember trying to get involved in preseason with the first team…I’ve been doing preseason since I’ve been about 12 (laughs).
“Saracens was different place back then. Everyone was still brilliant to me though. I was just a little kid running around watching the first team train. It probably helped me with moving down south, seeing my Dad train and get used to the place. I loved being here at the club."
His progression in Union during his formative years started at local club, Harpenden RFC. His pedigree and talent was obvious, so it was no surprise when he was included in the Saracens Academy from a very early age.
Farrell said; “I was always big for my age as a kid, so when I came here I was thrown into the back row, then I moved to centre to try and get picked for England U16s. I played in the centre for a while, then I think everyone caught up with me in terms of growing, so I moved to fly-half.
“I played a bit of ten for England U20s, but I guess the year I felt really comfortable playing as a fly-half was the year that we won the Premiership. Through people getting injured I got the opportunity at No.10 and to get thrown in like that, and have good run of games helped me become a better player, and a better fly-half."
Since then, few could have written the script for Owen Farrell for the past four seasons that has seen him win a Premiership title with Saracens, become a full England international and a British Lion.
Farrell began the 2010/11 season as one of a group of players dual registered with Bedford Blues, but injury problems at fly half midway through the season saw Farrell promoted to the first team and he never looked back.
He guided the team to their second successive Twickenham final before a flawless kicking display of 17 points saw Sarries to their first ever title.
The year also saw him nominated for the Young Player of the Season by both the Premiership and RPA.
Owen’s career has continued on its upward curve. A season after his Premiership winning heroics, Farrell was rewarded with his first England call-up in the winter of 2012. In his debut against Scotland he landed seven kicks from eight attempts against Scotland at Twickenham in the opening RBS 6 Nations Championship match of 2013, became man of the match and then landed four out of six as Ireland were beaten 12-6 in Dublin.
Farrell had an identical return against France that February, having also become the Premiership Player of the Month for January 2013. His 14 tackles against Scotland at Murrayfield in February 2014 were the most by an England player and the following month, he amassed 22 points against Italy in Rome, his highest total in an individual Test match.
Three days after being nominated alongside All Blacks Richie McCaw and Dan Carter and Frédéric Michalak of France, as the 2012 IRB Player of the Year, he played a vital role in England’s record win over New Zealand and scored 17 points, including his first dropped goal in Tests. His maiden try followed in the 20-13 win over Australia at Twickenham in November 2013.
During his initial 29 Tests for England, he put over 104 place kicks out of 131 and won selection for the 2013 British & Irish Lions tour of Australia. He made his debut for them off the bench in the 41-16 win over Australia that clinched the series in Sydney after being an unused replacement for the Tests at Brisbane and Melbourne.
He has progressed through the ranks alongside fellow Saracens stars, Will Fraser, Jamie George, George Kruis and Jackson Wray to become the country’s leading pivots. For Farrell, playing alongside the men who he progressed through the ranks with at the club has been a positive experience.
“It’s brilliant,” said Farrell about playing alongside his academy graduates. “You come through with these group of lads, and we’ve worked really, really hard together. So for us to have come through now and play in massive occasion, such as this weekend for this club, you don’t have to ask any of us lads who have come through what it means to pull on the Saracens shirt.
“You know, playing alongside each other means the world to us. We all know what we have put in to get to where we are. I’d like to get as many caps as I can for this club. It’s a brilliant place with brilliant people, and we’re constantly getting better. I can’t seeing anybody wanting to leave that.”