Farrell very much the centre of attention in Loftus showdown
England captain Owen Farrell will take to the Loftus Versfeld turf tomorrow as a marked man, that much is clear.
The importance and focus on one of the most talked-about players in world rugby will be central to one of the biggest games of the Investec Champions Cup opening weekend on Saturday night and while the Vodacom Bulls have chosen close to their strongest side on paper, they realise the significance of one name on the opposition roster.
Farrell is in focus because primarily of his decision to take a break from international rugby and look after his and his families well-being. And as he missed Saracens’ last game, this match gives him the chance to take the field again far from home and with an important role to play in the overall match.
The Bulls recognise this, and it wasn’t by chance that coach Jake White called Farrell “one of the best players to ever come out of England” and while the old cliche is that one player can’t swing a game, White is very wary that Farrell can.
“One guy does sometimes mean the difference. For instance, Jonah Lomu, I wished I could have coached him because he would win you the game on his own. Farrell is no different. Look at last week, they lost to Northampton at home, not because they are a bad side, but it shows you the influence he has,” White explained.
“He is a very influential player and it shows you he is going to have to be looked after. The bottom line is he has played at big levels and I just see the type of feedback you get from a guy like Willie le Roux in our side. You can’t buy that - how he talks, what he says and how he says it.
“I watched him run 50 metres to go and tell the forwards how to scrum. It’s incredible, he has never been in scrum in his life but he runs in to tell the forwards where to push. It just shows you.
“I’ve got no doubt, Owen Farrell is a phenomenal rugby player. I don’t know why he gets all the flack that he does, because when you play against him you realise how good he is.
“Saying that, they are a good team. People don’t even talk about the other internationals they have. Most of their players have played internationally and those who haven’t still will. That is the type of calibre club they are.”
Farrell’s duel with former Springbok Johan Goosen will be eagerly watched, especially as Goosen is sometimes seen as a polarising player that never reached the heights he should have as a 10.
And White believes Farrell is the perfect measurement for Goosen in this game.
“Any player who wears the number 10 jersey polarises people. It doesn’t matter where you play, the jersey should always have been given to someone else. That is the make-up of that position and the territory that they play in.
“I think to be fair, Johan will be relishing the fact he can play against Owen. He wants to play test rugby again and he would have loved to go to the World Cup. And now he gets a crack at Champions League to play against Owen Farrell.
“It’s a great measurement for him and I’ve talked a lot about measurement this week, but individually it is a great measurement. Imagine a young lock jumping against Maro Itoje, and what a great challenge it is for him.
“For Johan he is playing against a guy who has played 100 times for his country, has captained his country and played for the British and Irish Lions and is probably going to be one of the great rugby players to have come out of England.
“Sometimes you can’t talk about these duels individually, it is a a testament of where we are individually, as a group and as a club. I can tell you tomorrow night where we are as a club, and if we are where we thought we were. I will only know that once every player has the progress card on where we are.”
The Bulls kept very much the side that thumped the Hollywoodbets Sharks last weekend with one exception - captain Marcell Coetzee is back but only on the bench for the side, and will play an important role late in the game when the stakes will be high.
But for now, while it may be a bit overboard to say that Farrell is the centre of attention in this game, his play will be scrutinised for all its worth and he, White believes, holds the key for the Saracens side at altitude on Saturday.
Vodacom Bulls: Willie le Roux; Kurt-Lee Arendse, Stedman Gans, David Kriel, Canan Moodie; Johan Goosen, Embrose Papier; Cameron Hanekom, Elrigh Louw (captain), Marco van Staden, Reinhardt Ludwig, Janko Swanepoel, Wilco Louw, Akker van der Merwe, Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Simphiwe Matanzima, Mornay Smith, Deon Slabbert, Marcell Coetzee, Zak Burger, Jaco van der Walt, Sergeal Petersen