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'He was great for me. I learned a lot' - Andy Farrell ready to face down the man who 'looked after him'

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Ireland head coach Andy Farrell (pictured) knows France defence coach Shaun Edwards well from their days playing with Wigan in rugby league. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell (pictured) knows France defence coach Shaun Edwards well from their days playing with Wigan in rugby league. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell (pictured) knows France defence coach Shaun Edwards well from their days playing with Wigan in rugby league. Photo: Sportsfile

Andy Farrell can remember Shaun Edwards' arm around his shoulder like it was yesterday.

Making his Wigan debut at just 16 was a daunting enough prospect for Farrell, but in a dressing-room made up of tough characters, he could easily have crumbled under the weight of expectation. Edwards must have recognised as much because he went out of his way to ensure that the teenager fitted in as much as possible.

A full 29 years on since that day, Farrell and Edwards have very much made, and indeed continue to make, their mark in rugby union. Edwards was tempted back to league before he decided to join France last year, as he recognised the exciting potential of a young Les Bleus squad with a home World Cup looming large in 2023.

When Edwards' move to France was first mooted, it spelled danger for everyone because his no-nonsense approach was just what they needed.

Emphatic

Three games into his tenure as defence coach and the results have been emphatic, with the promise of much more to come.

While Edwards has continued as a defensive guru following a successful stint as Wasps head coach, Farrell has taken the leap into the hot seat, which he is quickly learning is an altogether different gig.

If Ireland's clash with France goes ahead next week, it will pit two of the sport's sharpest defensive minds against each other, only this will be the first time with Farrell as boss.

"He is a lot older than me, but I would say that he wanted to go into coaching from birth," Farrell smiled.

"We have a similar type of pathway. I could tell from the minute I made my debut with him what type of character he is. He looked after me massively when I came through as a kid.

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Shaun Edwards. Photo: ALLSPORT

Shaun Edwards. Photo: ALLSPORT

Getty Images

Shaun Edwards. Photo: ALLSPORT

"I remember him taking me to his agent on the first day I played for Wigan and he said, 'I'm going to look after you'. He was great for me in those first couple of years. I learned a lot."

Farrell has never forgotten what Edwards did for him when he broke through. Two men from the same neck of the woods have played a huge role in changing the way the best defences operate, which begs the question: what was so special about that Wigan dressing-room?

"I suppose it is the same culture that we see now from Leinster and Munster over the years," Farrell explained.

"You get a dominant period over a 10-15-17-year successful time, you get to see the reasons why people involved achieve that success. They understand it. They're able to deal with the pressures you've been talking about."

Those pressures relate to Ireland's current predicament as they attempt to go through this week as normal, even though it is anything but. Farrell should be preparing his team to take on Italy on Saturday, whereas instead he has had to switch the focus to France, without knowing for sure if that game will go ahead.

France have hit their straps under Fabien Galthie and Edwards' stamp is all over the team, as Farrell noted: "He has not just had an influence on the defence, he has had an influence on the way they play.

"They keep the ball in play, exactly the way Wales used to do. So, he has obviously taken his lessons from what made Warren's (Gatland) side very successful over the years - so fair play to France for allowing him to do that.

"You saw the performance against Wales, it certainly worked for them and it allowed them get a very good victory away from home."

Saturday's postponed game means that Ireland won't have a chance to rid themselves of the Twickenham nightmare.

France on the other hand, are facing the prospect of a six-day turnaround before Farrell's men arrive in Paris potentially attempting to deny the hosts winning the Grand Slam.

"I've only heard good things about Galthie," Ireland captain Johnny Sexton warned. "I worked with (Laurent) Labit in Racing, (he is) very organised.

"Throw Shaun Edwards in there, (Raphael) Ibanez as manager, they've got some good coaches there and they seem to be in it together, they seem to have a good relationship with the coaches and that I don't think was always the case down there.

"So we're preparing for a good French team and we know that we have to be a lot better than we were last week."

Irish Independent