Like father, like son - Owen Farrell is being hailed as England’s man of steel after his nerveless kicking display at the Stadio Olimpico sealed a 19-15 RBS 6 Nations victory over Italy on Saturday.
The 20-year-old landed four penalties and a tough conversion, following Charlie Hodgson’s second charge-down try in as many weeks, as England rallied from 15-6 down to claim their second win of the championship.
Andy Farrell - now England’s assistant coach - won two Man of Steel awards during a glittering rugby league career with Wigan and Great Britain.
Farrell senior watched from the stands as his eldest son, who has apparently been kicking drop-goals since he was two, landed all five of his shots at goal in difficult conditions in the Italian capital.
“He’s got nerves of steel,” said England captain Chris Robshaw. We know, and I think other teams now know, that if they infringe in their 40, that they’ll be punished more often than not.
“In any rugby and especially international rugby, it’s about keeping the scoreboard ticking over.”
Farrell finished the game with a bloodied bandage around his head, covering a wound above his left eye that required five stitches, to go with four in his ear. The image was striking and familiar. Fifteen years ago, at the same stadium, Paul Ince was the bloodied hero as the England football team secured qualification for the 1998 World Cup. It was only a goalless draw that day but a result of huge significance to England, just as yesterday’s was for Stuart Lancaster’s men.
Defeat would have made unwanted history and England made it tough on themselves, gifting Italy two tries at the end of the first half.
An awkward bounce, a deflection and a mix-up between Ben Foden and Ben Youngs gifted Italy their first try, scored by the wing Giovanbattista Venditti.
Moments later, Foden tried to force an offload that was intercepted and Azzurri centre Tommaso Benvenuti scored under the posts. Italy edged further ahead after the break before Hodgson blocked Andrea Masi’s kick and followed up to score his second try of the championship, having done the same to Scotland’s Dan Parks a week earlier.
Farrell then kept his cool to land the conversion from wide on the left and strike two more penalties as England, with their scrum dominant, nudged into a match-winning lead.
“He’s got a very, very strong temperament,” said Lancaster, England’s interim coach.
“When selection was made initially there was some talk about his inclusion but for me it was never in doubt.
“From what I’d seen from his performances in the Premiership and in Europe, from what I knew of him from an England age-grade international it was never in doubt.
“He’s beginning to fulfil his promise. He knows he’s got a long way to go but it’s been a great start for him. He’s come into an international side in two away games which most people would look at and say ‘that’s a pretty difficult start’ and stepped up magnificently. He’s been great for us.”
Farrell may be only 20 and have two caps to his name, but he was not shy in speaking his mind at half-time - a crucial time when England had to steady themselves after conceding those tries.
The Saracens centre spoke in the huddle after the match too, an indication he is growing in authority within the squad.
“At half-time everybody chipped in. It was only my second cap, but I had a few things to say as well,” Farrell said.
“In the huddle afterwards I said that the exciting thing is that we had built on last week and we can build on it again.”
England will need to improve against Wales and selection will be interesting, with Manu Tuilagi, Toby Flood and Courtney Lawes all set to be available.
Conditions have restricted England’s attacking game over the last two weeks but fortune has also been on their side, with Scotland and Italy both wasting chances to win the games.