Farrell praises "special" Wilkinson

Blackpool Citizen: Owen Farrell, pictured, has lavished praise on the retiring Jonny Wilkinson Owen Farrell, pictured, has lavished praise on the retiring Jonny Wilkinson

England star Owen Farrell has hailed World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson's "pretty special" quality ahead of their Heineken Cup final head-to-head in Cardiff on Saturday.

Fly-half Farrell makes his first appearance in a European final when Saracens bid to become England's fifth different European champions after Bath, Northampton, Leicester and Wasps.

And Toulon skipper Wilkinson also has huge motivation - his final game in the United Kingdom before retirement and a successful Heineken Cup defence for French rugby's big-spenders.

"He is one of the very few players who have come into the game and set his own standards," said Farrell, speaking at the Millennium Stadium on Friday.

"He has not lived by anybody else's expectations, he has set his own.

"There are very few people who do that, and there will be very few people who do that in the future.

"When that type of player comes along, it's pretty special. Obviously, everybody knows how special it is because of the career he has had."

If Saracens are to avenge their defeat in last season's Heineken semi-final against Toulon at Twickenham, when playmaker Wilkinson kicked all of his team's points from seven penalties and a drop-goal, Farrell and company will need their famed 'wolf pack' defence to herd Wilkinson out of business.

"The wolf pack is generally a term that we call our defence. It's called the wolf pack because wolves hunt better in packs," Farrell added.

"The strength of the wolf is in the pack and the strength of the pack is in the wolf. That's definitely what it comes down to when we talk about our defence and how we operate as a team."

And Farrell's team-mate, full-back Alex Goode, said: "We are a ferocious team with a lot of intensity in our defence.

"We don't believe in going in ones or twos - we go as a team and we hunt.

"We go after opposition and we are relentless in that pursuit of them. Whether that means Jonny, or whoever, we keep coming and we keep coming, and as a team that is what we expect of each other."

Captain Steve Borthwick has been named in the Saracens team after he suffered a pectoral muscle injury and departed during the second half of double-chasing Saracens' Aviva Premiership play-off victory over Harlequins last weekend.

Saracens rugby director Mark McCall described Borthwick's prospects earlier this week of being fit for the final as 50-50. But Saracens confirmed in a team announcement on Friday that he will line up in his familiar second-row position.

McCall has made just one change from the side that accounted for Quins, with scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth replacing Neil de Kock, who is on the bench.

Wilkinson, meanwhile, leads a team that shows a solitary switch after the Heineken semi-final victory over Munster last month, with South African lock Bakkies Botha taking over from Jocelino Suta.

"It (semi-final against Toulon) feels like a long time ago," Farrell said.

"Since then, we've changed the way we play a little bit, especially attacking-wise, and I think we've become more mature and confident in what we do. There is no other way than to be confident.

"We've done all our work earlier in the week, we have prepared and made sure that we've left no stone unturned.

"We've got stuck into analysis and made sure that hopefully we are ready for this game. Now it's time to relax and make sure we go into the game with a clear mind."

One of the defining images of last season's semi-final was Farrell and Wilkinson both on the floor speaking to each other after Wilkinson landed a victory-sealing drop-goal despite Farrell's crunching tackle on him.

"I put a bit of pressure on him for his drop-goal, and he managed to get it over," Farrell added.

"I think my words were 'there's no way you got that over' because it was behind me and I could not see the posts. He said 'sorry', and that was it."

Farrell and Goode made a fleeting Millennium Stadium visit for kicking practice on Friday, flying in to Cardiff by private jet from Luton before heading back and rejoining their team-mates. They will return to Wales on Saturday morning.

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