Saturday 17 March 2018

Father and son to face off in Ireland v England Aviva showdown

For Andy and Owen, Saturday’s Six Nations meeting will be a family affair

Andy Farrell, then England assistant coach, congratulates his son and fly-half Owen (left) after their Six Nations win over Ireland at the Aviva in 2013. Photo: Getty
Andy Farrell, then England assistant coach, congratulates his son and fly-half Owen (left) after their Six Nations win over Ireland at the Aviva in 2013. Photo: Getty
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Put yourself in Andy Farrell's shoes this week. Put yourself in Owen's. It's as surreal as it gets.

The Ireland defence coach must put his parental emotion to one side and put together a plan to shut down his son, England's playmaker-in-chief.

If he is successful, he will contribute to denying his youngster a place in rugby history, while also damaging his Lions ambitions.

For the 25-year-old, there is the strange sensation of preparing to face the man who taught him the game; the man who was an integral part of the first steps of his professional career for club, country and the Lions.

The 2015 World Cup marked the end of their professional arrangement and on Saturday they face each other for the first time. There are examples in other sports of fathers and sons facing off, but the sheer physicality of Test rugby and the nature of the collisions involved set this one apart.

Normally, Ireland's assistants operate a rota when it comes to media appearances during the Six Nations, but Farrell has been keeping a low profile this week even though it's his turn to face the microphones.

For some reason, the IRFU don't wish to fuel this most interesting narrative, but thankfully we asked the rugby league legend about the prospect of taking on his son some time ago.

Here's one we prepared earlier.

Andy Farrell believes Ireland lost their defensive
Andy Farrell believes Ireland lost their defensive "appetite" at Murrayfield

"It's what I've always said, it's as professional as it gets," he said of facing his son. "I've got a job to do and one of my jobs will be to stop England's attack during the Six Nations and you don't leave any stone unturned, especially when it's the last game of the Six Nations and hopefully there's something riding on it."

It was put to him that it's an interesting dynamic though, to face one's son?

"It is to you."

But not to you?

"Well it isn't because it's only ever been the same for me, because I was a professional rugby player and then he was my son," he replied. "I was watching him play amateur rugby etc and then he's your son. But when it becomes professional and he signs professional forms, and I'm coaching him, it's never been any different because it's work.

"Of course you still have the father-son relationship out of work, and I would say I never really coached him as a junior at all. I know a lot of fathers do that but I never did at all. I would think that job is harder as far as relationships are concerned because it's not professional.

"When you're a professional coach or player you tend to know what you've done right or wrong anyway, so there aren't that many surprises."

Yesterday, Greg Feek took a bullet for his fellow assistant to save him the tough questions about his son who has become a world-class operator in the last two seasons.

England's Owen Farrell. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
England's Owen Farrell. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

"Andy is a character, he is a great coach and he has been a great fit for us," the former All Black said.

"Part of me wants to be very professional but the other part of me wants to enjoy this moment of maybe capitalising on Andy and his involvement with us, but the only thing I would say is that I respect what he is going through and it is not easy I suppose in some ways.

"I have had that discussion with him and I think he is handling it. What gets you through any of this is purely your competitiveness in what you do at the end of the day you know. He will do his job and Owen do his.

"I have never met Owen officially, so I can't really speak for him but I know Andy is being as professional as he has always been this week. Nothing changes and he has been delivering great messages about playing and being chirpy over a flat white as well."

Over in Pennyhill Park, the word from the England camp is that Farrell junior is taking a similar approach.

"He's obviously a world-class player," full-back Mike Brown said.

"The ways he's grown has been amazing. Most of the time I don't even look when he's kicking because I just expect it to go over.

"He's that good. He's obviously massively involved in bringing energy to the team. He's physical and leads by example with his words. It's great for me sitting behind him, hearing him and seeing him. He massively inspires me.

"They (Andy and Owen) are very similar. They both bring a lot of energy. Owen backs up words with actions. I saw his dad play loads of times for Wigan as a rugby league fan.

"Ireland will be aggressive, they'll be physical and they'll come off the line.

"I guess (it will be weird), but he's used to it. He's probably not taken a second thought about it because he's so focused on his job in the team."

Eddie Jones is unperturbed.

"They've been talking about rugby probably since he was big enough to sit at the table," the England coach said.

"I think they're both mature enough to get on with it this week. Neither needs any more motivation to do well.

"They're Farrells. I think that sums it up."

That tallies with Owen's own words when he was asked about the strange dynamic himself last year.

"It's no different for me," he said.

"He's part of a new set-up now and that's his challenge. For me, you just get on with what's in front of you.

"It's always been the case. I've had him around a fair bit since I started playing but it's always been separate to him being my dad.

"I've never gone into a camp and sat down and had a coffee with him - unless it was for him to tell me off about something rugby-related. There was never that dynamic anyway, so it's just like working with a new coach. It will be exactly the same."

What is clear is that the Farrells will have something to say on the pitch on Saturday.

Andy's defence has come in for scrutiny and Jones reckons it offers up similar opportunities to the ones his team exploited so ruthlessly against Scotland last Saturday, while Owen is the key man in the English backline.

The father must stop the son. It will make for some interesting dinner-table talk.

Irish Independent

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