Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Farrell proving he's Saracens' man for big occasion

Saracens' 21-year-old fly-half Owen Farrell is no stranger to big-match occasions or to Twickenham.

Already he has chalked up 16 Test appearances for England and 45 Aviva Premiership outings, 42 of those as a starter.

So neither the stadium nor the importance of Saturday night's Heineken Cup match against Ulster is going to intimidate the son of former England Rugby League Test centre, Andy Farrell.

But Farrell junior is highly respectful of Ulster and wary of the threat they will pose.

His England team-mates from Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints will have marked his card, too, as to what Saracens can expect two days from now. In January 2012, Leicester were trounced 41-7 in the Heineken Cup at Ravenhill, the east Midlanders' heaviest ever European defeat. In December 2012 it was Northampton's turn, with Ulster doling out a 25-6 pasting – at Franklins Gardens.

"Ulster are a quality side and it's a huge game – one that I'm really looking forward to," Farrell said.

"It's going to be a huge occasion playing at Twickenham. There's been tens of thousands tickets sold already so I'm looking forward to playing in that big-game atmosphere again."

Despite the fact that he knows the stadium well, there would appear to be little likelihood of the British and Irish Lions player-in-waiting underestimating the challenge he is likely to encounter there. Ulster have threats all over the park," he said. "We know that we're going to have to maintain this good run of form if we are to beat them."

The 'good run' to which he referred has just seen Saracens beat defending champions Harlequins 27-12 at Allianz Park and fierce rivals London Wasps 22-13 at Adams Park in the space of six days, thereby maintaining a four-point gap at the top on second-placed Leicester.

They were 13 points down in as many minutes against Wasps, but bounced back to secure victory. Someone who played a part in that was fit-again flanker Jacques Burger. Farrell said: "The dressing room was absolutely buzzing to see Jacques return. He's a huge player for us and his presence both on and off the field cannot be underestimated at this club.

"We are all very happy that he's back and we're looking forward to seeing the Jacques of old when he gets out on the pitch in the coming weeks."

It says something for the regard in which Sarries hold the Namibian captain that in February, despite his serious knee injury, he was offered a generous two-year extension with no clauses or stipulations regarding fitness or playing time.

"I think there are a lot of people at other clubs in the same situation who are losing their contracts so I feel blessed in the sense that the club believe in me as a rugby player," Burger said.

"They look after me and respect me and what I've done for the club and I respect the club massively too.

"Since I've been at Saracens for three and a bit years now it's been incredible, I've really loved my time here.

"I think rugby-wise the way I play fits the way the team plays perfectly."

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