Ford and Farrell: England's friendly foes
They might be rivals for the same spot, but there is no bad blood between George Ford and Owen Farrell.
Far from it. In fact, the England pair have nothing but the most fulsome praise for each other’s game.
It is a measure of the depth of talent in his squad that coach Rob Hunter has left Saracens ace Farrell on the bench for Friday’s IRB Junior World Championship opener against Ireland.
That’s how it was also for the last meeting between the sides when England clinched the Six Nations Grand Slam in March with a 46-15 win in Athlone, with Ford the man who made the team tick.
Since then, Farrell has outplayed England fly-half Toby Flood and scored 17 points as Sarries beat Leicester 22-18 in the Aviva Premiership final, but it will still be Tigers man Ford who wears the No 10 jersey in Treviso.
Farrell has accepted Hunter's decision to stick with his Six Nations playmaker with good grace and says he is just as happy to play at inside centre, a position he is more than comfortable with.
“George is one step ahead of everyone else on the rugby field,” Farrell said from the team hotel in Padova ahead of England's opening match in Pool B, which will be televised live on television.
“He sees things before others see them and that's an amazing skill to have. It's unteachable. He sees space early and takes his opportunities when he can, his kicking game is second to none and his reading of the game puts him above others.
“He's a very easy player to play with. We get on very well and we've known each other for years now and we know how each other work.
“I wouldn't necessarily say that we have a rivalry for the 10 jersey. I've only really started playing there for the past year or so and I'm happy to play either 10 or 12 here in Italy to suit the team and aid us the best way I can.”
The admiration is mutual it seems.
“To do what he's done over the past few months is outstanding,” Ford said of his teammate. “To not only be a Premiership winner but to also have a 100 per cent kicking record in the Premiership final at just 19 is an amazing achievement.
“He's a top communicator and he holds real presence on the pitch, not just to me when we play alongside each other at 10 and 12, but to the whole team.
“He's a physical player with a strong kicking game and he's not afraid to stick a tackle in, so it's a massive bonus for us to have him out here because we're a stronger squad when he is.
“He's very easy to play alongside. We've played with each other for getting on for six years now and I think that we have a good relationship on and off the pitch and complement each other's game.”
A claim to the same position is not the only thing they have in common; both are sons of dual rugby champions.
Farrell’s father, Saracens coach Andy, captained the Great Britain rugby league team before switching to union and winning seven England caps, including three at Rugby World Cup 2007 in France.
Ford, the youngest player to play in a professional club match in England, is the son of Mike, the defence coach for England’s senior squad and also a former Great Britain rugby league international before swapping codes.
Hunter’s squad includes plenty of other Aviva Premiership experience for JWC 2011, which will be held in the Veneto region of Italy from June 10-26.
Such depth and the team’s unbeaten Six Nations campaign has convinced many pundits that England can finally wrest the trophy from three-time champions New Zealand.
Hunter was Mark Mapletoft’s deputy when England lost the final to New Zealand in Japan in 2009, and again last year in Argentina when the team came fourth despite the efforts of Tom Homer of London Irish, who is currently the tournament’s all-time top point scorer with 118 points.
England’s Grand Slam also included a 74-3 demolition of Junior World Championship hosts Italy and a 56-8 win over Scotland, whom they meet in their second match at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo in Treviso before taking on the South Africans who beat them to third last year.