England hope for 'extraordinary performance'

England head into Friday’s crunch Pool A clash against South Africa in Paris with the key duty of goal-kicking set to be given to a man who has yet to score a Test match point in the union game.

Andy Farrell was a prolific goal-kicker in rugby league but since his cross-code transfer from Wigan to Saracens in March 2005 has struck precious few kicks.

Last season he was on target with three efforts from three attempts for Saracens—having managed one from three in his first representative union game for a World XV against a South African XV in Leicester last December.

“The occasion makes no difference,” Farrell said. “You can only do your best. If you kick it, you’re a hero.
If you miss, you’re a villain.”

Injuries have restricted Farrell to six Test appearances, all in midfield, for the world champions including coming off the bench against the United States last weekend.

But with both Olly Barkley (hip), England’s man of the match in that lacklustre 28-10 opening Pool A match win against and Jonny Wilkinson (ankle), the drop-goal hero of the 2003 final, both sidelined, Farrell has been handed the additional responsibility of playing at outside-half.

However, he could switch places at the Stade de France with experienced utility back Mike Catt, down to play at inside centre.

“You tend to share the workload in that number 10/12 slot,” said Farrell. “You have to take on a bit more responsibility at number 10 but it wouldn’t matter to me what number I’ve got on my back.”

A damaged toe in training and an operation for a prolapsed disc suffered in a car accident meant the 32-year-old Farrell didn’t make his union bow until September last year.

Former England flyhalf Rob Andrew, now the Rugby Union’s elite rugby director, was adamant, however, that Farrell could play at number 10 against the Springboks, who opened their World Cup campaign with a crushing 59-7 win against Samoa.

“He’s shown all along he has got all the attributes in terms of his skills, decision-making, his kicking and his defence as well,” said Andrew.

“You [the press] have all questioned his pace but there have been plenty of flyhalfs who’ve played who didn’t have a great deal of pace,” added Wilkinson’s mentor, not renowned for his speed.

“If ever any one man had an opportunity to show people exactly what he’s made of, this is it for Andy on Friday night.”

Andrew, England’s second highest points scorer behind protégé Wilkinson, said goalkicking would not be an issue for Farrell.

“He’s kicked thousands of pressure points in rugby league.”

Few expect England to beat South Africa but Andrew said: “It’s a challenge for the whole squad but I, for one, believe they will respond. Inevitably, this is a bit of backs to the wall stuff.”

England are without captain Phil Vickery who received a two-match ban on Tuesday for tripping US centre Paul Emerick.

“We’ve got the captain out suspended, we’ve got our two first-choice goalkickers out injured and we’re playing probably the form side in the tournament after week one,” said Andrew.

“Clearly, it’s a massive ask but teams can produce an extraordinary performance as we saw in the opening game [when Argentina beat hosts France].”

South Africa are appealing against a four-game ban imposed on star back-row Schalk Burger for a tackle on Samoa scrumhalf Junior Polu and are also without centre Jean de Villiers who has gone home injured.” ‒ Sapa-AFP

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