Lawrence Dallaglio always gave as good as he got – and the former England skipper is backing Owen Farrell to stand up and be counted when Eddie Jones’ troops lock horns with Ireland in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.
A tantalising clash with last year’s Grand Slam champions in Dublin is on the menu for England in Round 1 and Dallaglio – an icon with a Red Rose on his shirt – is predicting a clash for the ages on Saturday, particularly with Farrell set to pit his significant wits against prodigious fly-half counterpart Johnny Sexton.
The 27-year-old will be tasked with leading Jones’ men in lieu of the injured Dylan Hartley, also watched on by the looming figure of his father Andy amongst the Irish coaching set-up, but Dallaglio has few worries over Farrell’s resolve and is salivating at the prospect of him going toe-to-toe with his fellow British & Irish Lion Sexton.
“Owen is a world-class player. It’s phenomenal to think what he’s already achieved in the game as such a young age and some of those records will continue to be broken because he’s an out-and-out winner,” said 2003 Rugby World Cup winner Dallaglio.
“I played with his father and his father’s an out-an-out winner, and it seems to be in the DNA. He clearly is such a fierce competitor. He’s not too dissimilar to Johnny Sexton in that respect.
“He’s barking and shouting at everyone, including his own teammates, and that’s a good thing. If you have an angry fly-half, it’s never a bad thing because as a forward playing in front of them, that’s exactly what you want.
“They didn’t do too badly for the British & Irish Lions together so it’s nice to see them playing against each other.
“Two of the best fly-halves in the world right up there in the opening game – it’s very exciting.”
In the heat of the battle in the Aviva Stadium as a rampant Ireland look to march to more silverware, England will need their hardiest competitors ready to dig to the depths of their spirit.
And No. 8 Billy Vunipola – back in the squad after missing the Autumn Internationals through injury – is another man that Dallaglio thinks could be key to an upset.
“When you look at his performance for club and country – I don’t like to put too much pressure on him but the win ratio does go up quite significantly,” he said.
“When he plays for Saracens, they win about 92 per cent of games. When he doesn’t play, they win about 68 per cent and I would say that’s pretty much the same for England as well.
“Rather than looking at one player specifically, I think that Eddie Jones – for the first time in a while – has probably got a pretty strong squad to select from.
“He’s got both Vunipola brothers fit, [Maro] Itjoe fit, [Joe] Launchbury fit, Courtney Lawes fit – it puts England in quite a strong position from their point of view.
“He [Billy Vunipola] be a big factor for England. No doubt. Whether he has the ball in his hands or he runs as a decoy, he attracts defenders and he attracts interest from people in the same way that some of the Ireland players do – and his brother’s quite handy too.
“Ireland are at full strength – if not full-tilt – and they’ve got a phenomenally strong squad, and a very settled squad.
“They’re in a strong position and it’s nice for England to have a similar strength of squad to select from because ultimately, that’s what we want. We want to see the best game. We want to see the best players on the field to make a great Test match.”
Dallaglio was speaking at the launch of #GuinnessClear, a campaign to encourage all rugby fans to drink responsibly throughout the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.
And consider his appetite for the match in Dublin suitably whetted.
The former England skipper said: “It’s just a fantastic Test match to look forward to.
“Ireland are playing magnificently well and England have had a better autumn than perhaps people expected given the huge injury list that they had.
“This is a game right up there and one that both sides will want to win.”
Today, GUINNESS launches Guinness Clear – a new responsible drinking campaign ahead of the Guinness Six Nations to encourage moderation amongst the millions of adult fans who will be watching the Championship. For more information, visit http://www.guinness.com/en-gb/guinness-clear-responsible-drinking/