JONNY WILKINSON was obsessed about being the best kicker rugby had seen, making him the perfect mentor for Owen Farrell.
The ability to block out the presence of 80,000 fans in a stadium when all eyes are on you is a rare gift and allows the World Cup winner and the man who hopes to have that honour one day to stand apart from the rest.
Neither player courts publicity and a night on the red carpet would be purgatory. Heaven to them is a bag of rugby balls and sole use of England’s training pitch at their Pennyhill Park base to go through every possible kicking skill and high-pressure scenario. George Ford is also in this exclusive club of No10s, one that Eddie Jones is happy for Wilkinson to run in the knowledge that whatever is discussed never reaches him. The England head coach is not a member.
The next kicking masterclass will be in the build-up to England’s opening autumn Test against Argentina on November 11, followed by Australia and Samoa, opportunities to confirm the team really are capable of winning the World Cup in Japan in two years’ time.
Listening to 26-year-old Farrell explaining his quest for perfection — which he admits is an impossible target — is to be transported back to 2003, as Wilkinson struggled to put into words the all-consuming hunger that made him so incredibly tough on himself. A session could not end until all of the final 20 kicks were on target.
“Jonny gives us a lot,” said Farrell, who has 603 England points, putting him more than halfway towards Wilkinson’s 1,179. “You try to be as open and honest about your experiences as possible — and here is a man who has experienced a lot more than we have.
“He has figured out a lot more and being able to chat about everything — not just kicking — is really important. Who wouldn’t want to continue to tap into that kind of knowledge?” Farrell is determined to prove to himself each day that he is getting better and Saracens provide the perfect environment for the European Player of the Year. He won that award after helping secure back-to-back Champions Cup titles with victory over French champions Clermont Auvergne in a pulsating final at Murrayfield.
Now, the target is a third title to match Toulon’s achievement and to confirm Saracens’ position as the dominant force in Europe. Their quest begins at Northampton on Sunday in a testing pool that also pits them against Clermont and Ospreys.
Farrell, speaking as a Land Rover ambassador, said: “It does feel a long time ago and a lot has happened since the win over Clermont. You constantly put your efforts into what challenge is coming up next. That’s a good thing because it is one big challenge after another and you have to perform every week. I don’t think anyone would want it any other way and if you are not performing the way you want, then the next week is an opportunity to show you have fixed it and moved on.
“I guess it is about proving things to myself each game. The good thing about that is it is constant and it will never end because you will never be complete. That becomes the challenge day in, day out, to feel like you are progressing. It definitely doesn’t end. “To win the Cup three times in a row would be an incredible achievement for the club, but the pool is very tough and we will have to fight hard to put ourselves in a good position.
“Going into the knockout stages, nothing is guaranteed because it is the best of the best. Last season, we put ourselves in a brilliant position by the end of the pool stage and kicked on. Northampton is a massive challenge because they are flying in the Premiership at the moment and going to their place will be very tough. It is all about getting a good start.”
The sides met on the opening The Progress 1000, in partnership with the global bank Citi, and supported by Invisalign, is the Evening Standard’s celebration of the people who make a difference to London life. #progress1000 day of the season, with Sarries running in nine tries as they beat the Saints 55-24 at Twickenham.
But Farrell said: “I don’t think that match counts for anything because there has been a long time between games and I am sure they will have something to say about that. Knowing what type of physical team they are and the battle up front they bring, with some pretty special players, excites us.”
Farrell will shortly switch focus to England, with the squad for the autumn named on October 26. The fly-half helped the Lions draw the summer series in New Zealand but must wait until November 2018 to test himself against the world No1 side again.
Farrell was an intergral part of the England squad that matched the All Blacks’ record by winning 18 Tests in a row and he said: “England are definitely on track. The results of the past couple of years show that and we need to do everything we can to become a better team. To prove that, you need to deliver in the first game.
“Playing [for the Lions] against the All Blacks — a fantastic team — was a great experience and that counts for a lot in terms of when we do face them. It didn’t change my perception about playing the All Blacks and it is pretty obvious they are a very good side, but we are not looking that far ahead and the priority has to be Argentina. All we can control is what we are doing now and it was great to get back into camp with England and put some clear focus on where we want to go. We want to hit the ground running against Argentina.”
Owen Farrell is a Land Rover ambassador. This year Land Rover celebrates its testimonial season of support for grassroots rugby in the UK.