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Farrell has moved well ahead of George now

Owen Farrell

By Charlie Hodgson 

No doubt the England boys will still be on a huge high after that win against Ireland and rightly so, but they will also understand that their challenge has suddenly become much harder.

It’s no secret that all teams love beating England, but given what happened last weekend, any victory over the men in white will taste even sweeter now.

The beauty about this tournament, though, is that things can change in an instant. And if there was ever a time not to get carried away, it would be now. England are coming up against a French team who have to be one of the most unpredictable sides in the world right now.

Even their selection can often be confusing, so knowing what performance the team will deliver is anyone’s guess.
There are two things I can guarantee we will see from France this weekend though. First, a team of massive, physical men and second, a team hugely emotional, especially after their loss against Wales last Friday evening.

I can’t imagine the French will be too fearful of coming to Twickenham and, if anything, they will feel they have nothing to lose.

It will not only require another Herculean effort from England to overcome the physicality of the French, but they will have to make sure they play in the right areas of the field to avoid fuelling that emotion.

Give France a sniff of an opportunity in the first 20 minutes and their confidence will grow. However, if England knock these big men back behind the gain line from the first whistle, I can see it being a comfortable home win.

Admittedly, it is the responsibility of the whole team to be able to play in the right areas of the field but there are a couple of players who can have a greater impact on whether this is successful or not.

Jonny May’s ability in the air from both an attacking and defensive point of view has been a real stand-out in recent months, and he has quickly made himself into one of the first names on the team sheet. I have been really impressed by his development and it is his positive contributions when chasing or receiving box kicks that has made a significant difference to this team.

Owen Farrell obviously plays in a position where he can have a greater say on proceedings, and it is his kicking and decision-making that will ultimately help the team play where they want to.

Where I have been most impressed with him is in his development of his attacking game. He has always been defensively strong, and his goal kicking speaks for itself, but he has really studied how he plays the game and has transferred that on to the field. He genuinely loves what he does and spends a great deal of time both on and off the field looking at ways to improve his game.

From my time as a player, he was always one of the last players off the field at the end of a session and it is no surprise that this work ethic is paying off in the way he plays. His flat pass for the first try last week was world class.

Where George Ford was once a genuine contender for the fly-half spot because of his attacking ability, I feel the gap has now widened between the two players because Owen has worked tirelessly at his attack and is now able to complement this with the already very strong parts of his game.

If I was to reflect on my own career briefly, this current situation for George is similar to what I experienced with Jonny Wilkinson.

He was undoubtedly a better defender than me and I would say that it was his obsession of getting better at his attack that made it even more difficult for me to get in to the side. George is an outstanding talent in his own right but given Owen also keeps improving all the time, it is hard to imagine how George fits in to this team, other than being a very capable back up.

Looking ahead again to this weekend, there is always a sense of anticipation when England play France. The long-standing rivalry between these teams makes it a compelling battle and I am very much looking forward to being at Twickenham to see how it all pans out.

England have set their bar very high after last week’s performance and they have a difficult task in backing that up again.
France have made a couple of changes to their side and you’d be a brave person to write them off.

However, Eddie has picked another strong team and I sincerely believe that if they start well, they can deliver another performance to be proud of.

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