Owen Farrell 'still friends with England rival George Ford'
Owen Farrell insists his long-standing friendship with George Ford remains intact despite the intense scrutiny that has greeted England's decision to change fly-halves for Saturday's seismic World Cup showdown against Wales.
Head coach Stuart Lancaster has dropped the section bombshell of demoting Ford, his first choice in the position since last autumn and the player credited with igniting the Red Rose attack, and turning to Farrell to direct the critical Pool A clash.
Alongside Sam Burgess' presence at inside centre, the measure has been taken to stiffen the midfield defence in anticipation of the Jamie Roberts-led Welsh onslaught imminent at Twickenham.
Ford was "devastated and gutted" by his relegation to the bench, according to his father Mike, but Farrell insists it is business as usual.
"We have been exactly the same. Absolutely normal. We talk about everything anyway, it's pretty open between us," Farrell said.
"It's exactly the same as it was last week, as it was in the autumn when he got picked and I went on the bench. Exactly the same.
"We've played with each other since we went to school together at 13 or 14 and then played for England at Under-16, 18 and 20 levels. We are just open with each other.
"Rugby-wise we are two people who are obsessed with the game. We like to talk about it and we are probably a bit boring - all we talk about is rugby."
Lancaster has been accused of abandoning his attacking principles for the first of two matches that the head coach has conceded will define his three-and-a-half year reign as head coach.
Ford has started 10 out of England's last 11 matches, only occupying the bench for the first game of the warm-up series, and is a more creative and rounded player than the rugged Farrell.
"Every player's different. George is a brilliant player and showed that in the Six Nations and in the last year, so I'll try to bring what I can to the game," Farrell said.
"People can say what they want. It is the people inside the camp that count to me, the people around me. External factors don't matter to us.
"It doesn't matter to me. It doesn't motivate me. All I want to do is do my job for this team, like everybody has been doing over the past 12 weeks."
Graham Rowntree offered a coach's perspective on the biggest selection call of Lancaster's stewardship.
"Owen has been exceptional for us coming off the bench and George has also been exceptional," forwards coach Rowntree said.
"For this game we have gone with this selection as a reflection of who we are playing against. Simple as. It's not a 23-man job, it's a 31-man job.
"You've got to choose the right tools for what's in front of you. That's what most teams do around the world, that's selection.
"For this game, we've gone with those players. We could change it next week but we are entitled to do so. It's incorrect to just put out the same team every week."
Farrell, who has amassed 307 points over 33 caps, is ready to stop Roberts and his fellow Welsh wrecking balls George North and Toby Faletau when they begin their midfield assault.
"I'm looking to do my job. If they come down that channel then it's my job to stop them," Farrell said.