The duel between Ford and Farrell at the box office will have a major impact on the outcome of Saturday’s Premiership final
Their faces can be seen in the advertising campaign and will be featured on the cover of matchday programming at Twickenham. Owen Farrell vs George Ford is the highlight of Saturday’s Premiership final.
These close friends, England allies and club rivals are true teammates, desperate to ward off individual attention.
But they are also the country’s most experienced master conductors, who will be instrumental in determining the outcome of the league’s North-South playoff.
Their neck-and-neck race may also have implications for Steve Borthwick’s World Championship schedule, but for now the focus for the two tens is just Saracens, Sale and home glory.
Hailing from the North West of rugby league and going to school together in Hertfordshire before making so many Test appearances side by side, the pair know each other’s evolving games inside out.
George Ford (l) and Owen Farrell (r) will play key roles in Saturday’s Premiership final
The English allies and old school friends know each other’s evolving games inside out
They are both in fine form after Farrell guided Saracens to an impressive play-off win over Northampton, while Ford masterfully embodied Sale’s win over his former club and holders Leicester to make it back for the first time in 17 years made the finals.
“I’ve obviously known George since I was a kid,” Farrell said.
“The first thing you do when you play him is know you’re playing against a quality player.” You’re playing against someone who knows what they’re doing, as he’s proven since coming back to the Sale team. He was outstanding. I think he’s fine. He looks calm, he seems to be in control.’
Ford missed the first half of this season as he recovered from a serious Achilles tendon injury, but Farrell realized he made an impact off the field ahead of his comeback at Sale, adding: “I would commend the impact he has on don’t underestimate it.” Team behind the scenes.
“You see him on the touchline every game, you see him chatting to the coaches.” It’s going to be like that day in and day out, so I’m sure he’s had a huge impact.”
Describing Farrell as a “great friend,” Ford added, “He’s obviously the captain and he’s on the front lines.” He brings variety to the way they attack when they have the ball.
“He’s probably as wild as ever on defense and we know we’re dealing with a world-class fly-half and a world-class team this weekend.” But we’re confident ourselves.”
While both men took pains to emphasize their roles as mere cogs in multidimensional parties, there is no doubting their ability to exercise control over the process. They will try to do this in slightly different ways.
The Saracens are still hurt over how they were rejected by Leicester a year ago
HEAD TO HEAD
FORD ON FARRELL
We’re getting along fine. He (Farrell) is a great friend but we’re used to playing each other now. We understand that we are just two cogs in the wheel of two teams. Hopefully we can influence the game. There’s a story about how long we’ve known each other and played together. You enjoy playing against the best players (like him). It’s always a big challenge. You always know the game is going to go one way or the other, and it brings out the best in you to play against such players. Those are the challenges you want.
FARRELL ABOUT FORD
I’ve known George since I was a child. When we were younger we played each other in rugby league. We have known each other since I was 13 years old. When you play against him, the first thing you know is that you are playing against a top-class player. You know you’re playing against someone who knows what they’re doing, as he’s shown since returning to the Sale team. He was outstanding. He’s in a good place. He looks calm, he seems to be in control and I’m sure he’s a big driver behind this Sale team.
And don’t forget England’s other fly-half World Cup contender – the Harlequins’ Marcus Smith, 24, is pretty decent too!
Former England head coach Eddie Jones said: ‘Owen is a formidable competitor and George Ford is not as physical, probably more tactical than Owen who is more aggressive.’ It will be a nice contrast.’
While Farrell is better known for his warrior spirit as a defensive leader, and Ford is known as an outstanding strategist with subtle brilliance as a ball player, they also bring opposite temperaments to their work. Alex Sanderson, now rugby director at Sale and previously head coach at Saracens, gave an insight into what makes the pair tick.
“They are very similar in many characteristics that make them superlative players,” he said.
“Their decision-making is second to none and their standards are, for the most part, higher than everyone else’s, so they push other people to meet those standards.”
“Owen is very emotional and aggressive when necessary.” That’s what he thrives on and people will follow because he wears his heart on his sleeve.
“With George, there’s a softer tone and a more persuasive way of speaking that inspires people in a slightly different way.”
“For us at Sale, for this group — which is very nervous for the most part, George was the missing cornerstone.” He was a catalyst. We were a good team before, but George helped with his calmness in the crisis and his clear direction. I don’t know if Faz understands that. You definitely get clarity and drive, but there’s a calm aura around George that’s really good for our team.”
Of course, the fly-half duel – with spiral bombs as the main weapon of choice – will depend on the fight at the top.
Sale’s team have the set pieces and punching power to stand up to the mighty Saracens unit, something not many Premiership sides can match. Northern challengers will miss Ben Curry sorely, but their rivals will be without Billy Vunipola – a huge void to fill.
The Saracens have the masterful pedigree and are long-time regulars for the England team. Farrell, Jamie George, and Maro Itoje. In full-back Alex Goode they also have someone who has been there, made it and worn the shirt so many times as a veteran of all modern Premiership and European triumphs.
Sale are the underdogs. But they have Ford, Tom Curry, Manu Tuilagi and Jonny Hill, a hefty dose of South African brawn and a trio of young Northerners – Joe Carpenter, Tom Roebuck and Arron Reed – who will play with the fearlessness of youth.
But Saracens are still injured after losing to Leicester a year ago and – with the likes of Mako Vunipola and Elliot Daly on their bench – have the firepower to get the job done this time around.