Farrell is now the current incumbent and rightly or wrongly is a former IRB world player of the year nominee. And he's only 21. That is a scary thought for those going to face the English in the next 10 years and beyond.
In his short career, Farrell has already showed flawless goal-kicking, and incredibly strong defense. Farrell seems to be Jonny Wilkinson 2.0, there is certainly the equivalent English hysteria surrounding him at the moment.
With Sexton's injury, and a lack of credible alternatives, he seems to be the main runner for the starting test spot on the Lions tour. But while the English are renouncing a glorious talent, I've had reservations about him. Yes, he is a world class kicker, and tackles with no fear, but having grown up playing in the centres, does he have the skills to run a backline on the highest stage? He showed against Scotland that it would appear so, and delivered a wonderful pass for Geoff Parling to score. He didn't show this against Ireland, in horrendous conditions, which is fair enough. And Farrell showed impressive temperament to manage the game effectively.
Farrell is a coaches dream. He is incredibly solid, won't make mistakes and will kick his goals. But I'm reserving judgement on him until he demonstrates the capabilities to manage a backline for an extended run of games. In his short career he hasn't had a dip in form yet either. What separates the world class from the very good is the response to that dip in form. Until we see what happens then, we shouldn't be burdening him with IRB player of the year nominations.
The oldest of this trio, at an ancient 22 years old, has been impressing many watching Gloucester this season. Burns made his English debut coming on against the now famous game against New Zealand. He would be on the bench this 6 Nations if it weren't for an untimely injury.
There is a lot of buzz about Burns in England, and it says a lot about him that there were question marks about who would start at ten for England before Burn's injury, when you consider where Farrell is in everyone's mind now.
Unlike Farrell, Burns knows how to run a backline, he knows how to unlock a defense, is a capable runner with a great step, and has a great boot on him. His passing is excellent, and if nothing is on, he can produce a piece of magic, or find a great touchfinder.
Usually a player with that amount of attacking talent is vulnerable in defense, but Burns is a big guy, and tackles as well as anyone. Farrell may have more solidity about him, which isn't me suggesting that Burns is flaky, but Burns has the X factor.
He recently returned for Gloucester, and didn't put in a fantastic performance, but with Farrell's injury should see some game time against Italy and might start against Wales.It looks like Flood should start, but Burns should see some game time, and if he shows the form of before his injury, don't discount him for the third out-half slot on the Lions tour.
The youngest of the 3, at only 19, but perhaps has the most potential. Ford is the youngest player to make his debut at the young age of 16 for Leicester in the LV Cup.
Ford is leaving Leicester at the end of the season, where he is backup to Toby Flood, to join Bath and show what remarkable talents he has.
From watching him in the Wolfhounds game against the Saxons a number of weeks back, Ford was head and shoulders above everyone else on the field. He oozes class.
Ford controlled that game, and showed that he has a fantastic rugby brain. He knew when to showcase his attacking talent, and when to play for position.
In terms of style he is more attacking than Farrell, and more solid than Burns.
If these three were in different eras, or even different nationalities, they would all have close to 100 caps on the international stage. As it is, they will be competing with each other for many years. I think that Ford has the most about him, and will usurp the challengers in the next 2-3 years.