Owen Farrell might have been a leading candidate for a few sleepless nights recently but he is determined not to lose out on his eight hours of shut-eye over the challenge facing Saracens this afternoon
The England fly-half lines up in the Champions Cup semi-final against Munster in Coventry after missing the quarter-final against Glasgow last month for the birth of his first son.
Farrell was so desperate to play in that last eight clash that he phoned Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, 45 minutes before kick-off to tell him he was ready to go if the birth happened there and then but was warned off by his boss.
Farrell was also absent from one of the famous Saracens’ socials, in St Anton in Austria, a two-day jaunt following that 56-27 romp over the Scots so he could acquaint himself with the new arrival.
But he will not need too much time to acquaint himself with Munster after sharing the 2017 British & Irish Lions trip to New Zealand with the likes of Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander.
“They are brilliant lads, good honest hard working lads and I think that shows in the way they play,” the playmaker said. “They are good players, brilliant to play with and good blokes off the field as well. I don’t have to tell you what they are good at, it is clear to see for everyone.
“I think it is a very big challenge. Every time I play against Munster, whether it be home or away, wherever it is, it has always felt like they have got a lot of fans. They are a team that works unbelievably hard for each other, they are a team that fight for everything and love playing on the big European stage.
"We’ve got to make sure we know what is coming. We have to aware, and not shocked, by how they rise to another level in Europe.”
England, under Farrell’s captaincy, had a mixed bag of a Six Nations, beating Ireland away, losing to Wales away and drawing with Scotland.
The 27-year-old’s leadership came under scrutiny with the likes of Clive Woodward, England’s World Cup winning coach claiming the fly-half, goalkicker and skipper had too much on his plate.
Although one of the big leaders with Saracens, George Kruis, Jamie George and Maro Itoje are in there too, Farrell will not be burdened by captaincy this afternoon.
Centre Brad Barritt is back to lead the side after recovering from an ankle injury and in another massive boost for the English champions prop Mako Vunipola returns after an ankle problem sustained against France in the Six Nations.
Saracens have all their England contingent on duty, with hooker George starting, Kruis making his 50 European appearance and Itoje at lock at Billy Vunipola starting at No.8. Scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth is on the bench after a groin injury and will make his 100th European appearance if he gets on. England might have beaten Ireland in that Six Nations but Farrell insists that is all water under the bridge.
‘In rugby terms that is a long, long time ago,” he added.
I’d imagine those boys who played in that game have probably moved on from that and have been playing well since. I’m sure they are focused on what they can do now, to play well this weekend, as we are.
“Obviously you learn from every experience that you are thrown into and you are lucky enough to get. I learned a lot throughout that. There were a lot of things that we thought we did well and some things we could have done better. But I’m focused on Munster and on what’s happening now.
“You don’t get much bigger than European semi-finals against a club like Munster and as much as they love playing in these big games, we do too.
“We have not done too badly in them before.”