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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 September 2006, 06:24 GMT 07:24 UK
Farrell finally joins the union

By Phil Harlow
BBC Sport at Imber Court

Andy Farrell
Farrell played 65 minutes on his return to action
Reserve team fixtures on Monday evenings in deepest Surrey do not routinely attract three TV crews, scores of journalists, multimillionaire club owners or England coaches.

But the inclusion of one 'A Farrell' on the team-sheet meant that Harlequins' 30-12 win over Saracens in the Guinness A League was not your standard reserve match.

Andy Farrell's competitive rugby union debut, 18 months after joining Saracens in a high-profile switch from rugby league, attracted major media interest, not to mention the likes of Saracens owner Nigel Wray and England defence coach Mike Ford.

Already talked up as a potential saviour of England's faltering World Cup defence, Farrell - who lost the whole of last season to injury - looked understandably pensive as he jogged out at Imber Court.

Straight from the kick-off, Farrell's rustiness was betrayed by a slight hesitation under the high ball, while he stood in the backline during the first line-out of the match.

But for a man who has not played a game of either code since the Tri-Nations final in November 2004, Farrell was certainly not backward in coming forward.

No matter how good you are it takes time, and Andy will need that

Farrell's former Wigan team-mate Phil Clarke

Time and time again, Farrell's booming Wigan accent could be heard cajoling his team-mates to sharpen up their one-on-one tackling, while he led the team talk after Quins scored their second try to take a 10-0 lead.

But Farrell's performance was more than just talk. The 31-year-old showed glimpses of the talent which prompted the Rugby Football Union and Saracens to shell out a reported 700,000 for his services way back when.

His instinctive pops out of contact showed all the hallmarks of his rugby league background, while his flat and accurate passing from first receiver would shame many a specialist fly-half in the Premiership.

The first time Farrell took the ball into contact showed he had lost none of his power during the lay-off as one would-be tackler bounced off. And when Farrell was brought down, his swift presentation of the ball showed he was up to speed with the basics of ball retention in union.

To make the trip worthwhile for many of the 1,000-plus crowd at Imber Court, Farrell even threw in a debut try, skilfully exchanging passes with Matt Cairns out wide before scoring it at the corner.

Andy Farrell makes his point
Farrell lays down the law to his Saracens team-mates

Employed as a lifter in the line-out, Farrell's set-piece work was solid and his understanding of when to commit to the breakdown and when to seek space looked promising.

But inevitably, there were hiccups along the way.

Renowned as one of the best kickers in league, Farrell only put boot to ball once on Monday, and saw his attempted touch-finder bobble harmlessly into the in-goal area.

"Was that a 40/20?" asked one wag.

And as Farrell's legs tired towards the end of his 65 minutes on the field, Quins began to exploit his naivety with several attacks off the back of the scrum finding acres of space down the blind-side.

Farrell's friend and former Wigan and Great Britain team-mate Phil Clarke - also watching from the stands - told BBC Sport that the two-time Man of Steel would take great confidence from his debut.

"I was there when he made his debut for Wigan's second team," said Clarke.

"And I was there when he made his Great Britain debut in 1993, so there was no way I was going to miss this.

I'm pleased to have got this out the way - there's a lot of hard work to do

Andy Farrell

"It would be lovely to think I might be there to see him make his debut for England but there's a long way to go yet.

"No matter how good you are it takes time, and Andy will need that.

"But the try was great for his confidence, and he seemed very vocal and had good body language out there so it's definitely something to build on."

Saracens director of rugby Alan Gaffney said he had been paying close attention to Farrell's contribution and had liked what he saw.

"I was following him rather than the game for a lot of the time and I thought he did really well," said Gaffney.

"He pushed himself but he didn't try to do too much."

As for Farrell himself, the man of the moment admitted his relief at ending the "lonely" months of being on the sidelines, but preferred to look to the future.

"I'm pleased to have got this out the way - there's a lot of hard work to do," he said.

"It's great that I can start concentrating on my rugby rather than worrying about my body."



SEE ALSO
Farrell enjoys try-scoring debut
11 Sep 06 |  Saracens
Frustration fuels Farrell return
09 Aug 06 |  English
Farrell tipped to be England star
02 Aug 06 |  Internationals
Toe op puts Farrell on sidelines
22 Sep 05 |  English
Farrell debut put on hold again
26 Aug 05 |  English
Classy Farrell will be a success
24 Mar 05 |  Rugby League
OBE honour for captain Farrell
31 Dec 04 |  Rugby League


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