James Sweetland argues that Farrell does not get the respect he deserves as he prepares to move to France

It wasn’t the most glamorous day out. It’s October 2008, I’m sat in the concrete bowl of Vicarage Road, watching Saracens face Scarlets in the EDF Energy Cup. It’s raining – a lot. The stand opposite’s closed. And my team, Saracens, slip to a nine-point defeat.

And yet, it was a special game. Because, with ten minutes left, a 17-year-old comes on for his debut. His name? Owen Farrell. You might’ve heard of him.

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Over the last 16 years, I’ve seen him lead Saracens to European titles and drag us from salary-cap relegation all the way back to another Premiership trophy. I’ve watched him wink at the All Blacks before that astonishing 2019 World Cup semi-final and drive England to the brink of another final four years later.

I’ve loved the big hits, the relentless desperation to win, the leadership, the commitment, the energy that makes a test-match animal. I’ve watched him mastermind kick-chase victories and lead a new era of swashbuckling, offloading, all-court Saracens.

And I’ve been appalled to watch him endure the very worst of modern rugby. Anonymous abuse, booing, the irrational hatred certain players can’t seem to escape.

So yes, I’ll admit it, I’m biased. I think the haters are plain wrong. I love Owen Farrell – and I think you should too.

If you won’t take my word for it, look at the statistics. 1,271 test points. 112 England caps. Three Lions tours. Three Six Nations titles, including one Grand Slam. Three European titles. Over 250 Saracens caps and 2,693 points across the Premiership and Europe.

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Maybe that’s all just luck, so ignore the statistics and try these instead. “A real standout leader…” “Anyone who appreciates a game of rugby appreciates the skillset of this guy.” “Farrell’s a fantastic player who, unlike Wilkinson, perhaps doesn’t get the praise he deserves.” “One of the rare characters and rare leaders that the game needs.” The words of Paul O’Connell, Jamie Roberts, Sir Clive Woodward and Dan Carter.

Maybe you don’t care about that either. Maybe you think, great player, but I just don’t like this guy I’ve never met. Well, after the 2021 Lions tour, Ireland centre Bundee Aki said: “Honestly I’ve learnt so much off (Farrell), I didn’t think I’d get along with him so well.” Hamish Watson called him a “really refreshingly good lad.” Stuart Hogg said much the same.

cheer for Owen Farrell

Owen Farrell leads Saracens out with his kids at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for The Showdown against Harlequins (Getty Images)

Maybe just take in the emotion that surrounded him getting his 250th Sarries jersey, if you’re still not convinced.

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In March, in this magnificently topsy-turvy Premiership season, I went to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for ‘the Showdown’. Quins v Sarries, the Barbie versus Oppenheimer of English rugby. And a much better atmosphere than Vicarage Road in 2008.

For Quins fans, it’s probably the worst match you’ve been to in a long while. You probably left thinking: ‘I hate Saracens. I can’t wait to see the back of Owen Farrell – and can he take Elliot Daly with him?’ I understand that.

But I think even the most ardent Quins fan should forget the Showdown. Ignore the angry voices, the ones that said Farrell was only picked because of Dad – and then every single coach who’s ever had the chance.

Forget the social media abuse, the booing – the behaviour that’s driven one of England’s greatest players out of Test rugby, like it pushed Wayne Barnes and Tom Foley out of refereeing.

Instead, do what I’ll do when Danny Care finally retires, aged 45. Celebrate a brilliant Test player and a wonderfully talented, infuriating enemy of your domestic team. Take a moment, pause, reflect, remember what our game should be all about. And cheer – yes, cheer – for Owen Farrell.

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