Their faces have appeared in the promotional campaign and they will be on the cover of the matchday programme at Twickenham. Owen Farrell versus George Ford is the box-office centrepiece of Saturday’s Premiership final.
These close friends, England allies and club rivals are out-and out team men, desperate to deflect the glare of individual attention.
But they are also the country’s vastly experienced, master conductors, who will have a major say in deciding the outcome of the league’s north v south decider.
Their head-to-head may have ramifications for Steve Borthwick’s World Cup planning too, but for the two 10s, the only focus for now is on Saracens, Sale and domestic glory.
Having come from rugby league backgrounds in the North West and ending up at school together in Hertfordshire, before making so many Test appearances side by side, the pair know each other’s evolving games inside-out.
George Ford (L) and Owen Farrell (R) will play a pivotal role in Saturday’s Premiership final
The England allies and old school-friends know each other’s evolving games inside-out
They are both in supreme form, after Farrell guided Saracens to an emphatic play-off victory over Northampton, while Ford expertly masterminded Sale’s win over his former club and title-holders Leicester, to reach the showpiece for the first time in 17 years.
‘I have obviously known George since I was a kid,’ said Farrell.
‘When you come up against him, first and foremost you know you’re playing against a quality player. You’re playing against someone who knows what they’re doing, as he has shown since coming back into the Sale team. He has been outstanding. I think he is in a good place. He looks calm, he looks in control.’
Ford missed the first half of this season as he recovered from a serious achilles injury, but Farrell recognised that he was having an off-field impact at Sale before making his comeback, adding: ‘I would not underestimate the influence that he has on that team behind the scenes.
‘You see him on the touchline every game, you see him chatting to the coaches. That will be day-in, day-out so I’m sure he’s had a massive impact.’
Ford described Farrell as a ‘great friend’, adding: ‘He’s obviously the captain and he’s at the forefront. He’s driving their variety in terms of the way they attack when they have the ball.
‘He’s probably as ferocious as ever in defence and we understand we’re up against a world class fly-half at the weekend and a world-class team. But we’re confident ourselves.’
While both men were at pains to emphasise their role as mere cogs in multi-dimensional sides, there is no question about their ability to exert control over proceedings. They will seek to do so in slightly different ways.
Saracens are still wounded at the way they were denied by Leicester a year ago
FORD ON FARRELL
We get on well. He (Farrell) is a great friend but we’re used to playing against each other now. We understand we’re just two cogs in the machines of two teams. Hopefully we can have an influence on the game. There’s a history with how long we’ve known each other and played together. You enjoy playing against the best players (like him). It’s always a great challenge. You always know the game is going to swing one way or another and it brings the best out of you to play against players like that. They’re the challenges you want.
FARRELL ON FORD
I have known George since I was a kid. We played against each other at rugby league when we were younger. We have known each other since I was 13. When you come up against him, first and foremost you know you are playing against a quality player. You know you are playing against someone who knows what he is doing, as he has shown since coming back into the Sale team. He has been outstanding. He is in a good place. He looks calm, he looks in control, and I am sure he is a big driver behind this Sale team.
And don’t forget about England’s other fly-half contender for the World Cup — Harlequins’ Marcus Smith, 24, is pretty decent, too!
Former England head coach Eddie Jones gave his take, saying: ‘Owen is an outstanding competitor and George Ford is not as physical, probably tactically more commanding than Owen, who is more abrasive. It will be a nice contrast.’
While Farrell is more renowned for his warrior spirit as a defensive leader and Ford is known as a supreme strategist with subtle brilliance as a ball-player, they also bring contrasting temperaments to their work. Alex Sanderson, now director of rugby at Sale and previously head coach at Saracens, gave insight into how the two tick.
‘They’re very similar in terms of a lot of the attributes which make them superlative players,’ he said.
‘Their decision making is second to none and their standards are higher than everybody else’s for the most part, so they drive other people to meet those standards.
‘Owen is highly emotional and aggressive when needed. He thrives off that and people will follow him because he wears his heart on his sleeve.
‘With George, there’s a softer tone and a more persuasive manner through conversation, which inspires people in a slightly different way.
‘For us at Sale, for this group — which is mostly a highly strung one, George has been the missing key-stone. He’s been a catalyst. We were a good team before, but George has added to it with his calmness in adversity and clear direction. I don’t know if you get that with Faz. You definitely get clarity and you get drive, but there is a calm aura around George which serves our team really well.’
Of course, the fly half duel — with spiral bombs as a primary weapon of choice — will hinge on the battle up front.
Sale’s pack has the set-piece and carrying clout to stand up to the mighty Saracens unit, which not many Premiership teams can do. The northern challengers will sorely miss Ben Curry, but their rivals are without Billy Vunipola — a vast void to fill.
Saracens have the title-winning pedigree and long-time stalwarts of the England side; Farrell, Jamie George and Maro Itoje. They also have, in full back Alex Goode, someone who has been there, done it and worn the T-shirt so many times as a veteran of all the modern-day Premiership and European triumphs.
Sale are the underdogs. But they have Ford, Tom Curry, Manu Tuilagi and Jonny Hill, a hefty dose of South African muscle and a back three unit of young northern lads — Joe Carpenter, Tom Roebuck and Arron Reed — who will play with the fearlessness of youth.
But Saracens are still wounded at the way they were denied by Leicester a year ago and they have the depth of firepower — with the likes of Mako Vunipola and Elliot Daly on their bench — to finish the job this time.