Owen Farrell’s match-winning display at Leicester bodes well for Saracens in 2017
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Owen Farrell has never been one to shy away from the spotlight in the most important matches – and he proved again that he is a big-game player at Leicester on New Year’s Day.
Clashes between Saracens and the Tigers rarely disappoint. They tend to bring out the best in individuals, and Sunday’s encounter was no different.
Sarries had not won at Welford Road in the Premiership since March 2011 prior to the weekend’s meeting, but fly-half Farrell epitomised the visitors’ tenacity and bullishness as they ground out a victory against their tough Midlands opponents.
The Hendon-based club were under pressure going into the game, given Wasps had won at the Rec the previous day and gone five points clear at the top of the table.
However, that only seemed to give Saracens greater focus and Farrell stood up and led from the front, scoring the only try of the match, adding the conversion and also kicking three penalties.
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Indeed the 25-year-old scored all of his side’s points in the 16-12 victory, which secured the club’s opening win of 2017 and their 10th overall in the league this term, leaving them one point off the summit.
At a time when it really mattered, with Sarries trailing on the scoreboard, Farrell injected belief and desire into his team and ensured they did not fall to a third away defeat of the season.
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He has not just been a consistently strong performer in the league. He is also the joint highest points scorer on the continent in the Champions Cup this season, having racked up 67 points – the same as Leinster’s Isa Nacewa.
Earlier this season Sarries’ director of rugby Mark McCall described Farrell as the best player in Europe, and it is easy to see why.
The fly-half missed the start of the campaign due to injury but he looks back to his best, and his fitness issues have seemingly only increased his longing to become the very best.
As the seasons have gone by, he has been receiving due recognition from the wider rugby world, acknowledging the fact that he is competing in the highest echelons of the game, and his World Rugby Player of the Year nomination has underlined his status in the sport.
It also reflects well on Saracens, and the fact that three of the club’s players were included in the six-man short-list for the highest individual accolade in world rugby –Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola were also recognised - is a testament to their own progress and excellence.
Farrell is among a band of elite stars at Saracens who have benefited from the culture and ethic shared by both players and coaches, and his continued development will only increase the north Londoners’ chances of landing their second successive league and European titles this campaign.
We have now entered the second half of the season, when the games grow in importance and the trophies are ultimately handed out – and then the focus will turn to the Lions’ tour of New Zealand.
Only the best of the best from the four home nations will be given seats on the plane and Farrell is sure to be included.
He already has a Lions series win to his name, and the former rugby league convert has made huge strides in the fours years since that success in Australia.
Farrell could be a key figure again in the summer but, in the meantime, Saracens need him to maintain his consistency in the Premiership, starting with Saturday’s home game against third-placed Exeter Chiefs.
Follow me on Twitter @AaronTillyer