Wonderful, not weird: Why Andy Farrell’s family loyalties will be parked for a day

Wonderful, not weird: Why Andy Farrell’s family loyalties will be parked for a day
Owen and Andy Farrell at the Six Nations launch.

When your son is the England captain and you are the Ireland boss, meetings between the two sides tend to be intriguing and more than a little awkward, unless you’re Andy or Owen Farrell that is.

For the rest of us, looking on as father and child go into battle from opposite sides at Twickenham in nine days, it will be a unique occurrence, yet visiting head coach Andy Farrell has no problem compartmentalising his relationship with his son the England skipper.

“I know, it’s weird, isn’t it?” Farrell said in Cork yesterday as he tapped into the prevailing mood when the subject was raised. Not that he felt that way himself.

“It’s weird for you guys but it’s certainly not weird for us because it’s never been any different. It’s as professional as it gets because that’s all we’ve ever known with Owen being a professional player and me being a professional coach. It’s never been any different.”

There are those close to the pair, however, for whom this latest competitive family get-together is more of a trial, starting with Andy’s wife and Owen’s mother Colleen and their three other children.

“The hardest part is certainly for Colleen. And Owen’s sisters, and the young fella Gabriel, it’s weird for them.

“They’ve got unbelievably mixed emotions.

“How do they try and come to terms with it? They hope that, both sides do well.

“And that’s not going to happen, is it? So it’s a difficult one for them.”

Having played on the same side under Eddie Jones at Saracens when father and son were at different ends of the playing journey in 2008, and both been part of the England set-up as fly-half and coach, Andy’s appointment as Ireland defence coach in 2016 put the pair in different camps.

To the now Ireland boss, facing his son for the first time all seems a very long time ago.

I can’t even remember how it felt. But I am proud of the situation, I am as far as a father and him as a son. I am proud of how it is handled because it is one of the utmost respect, but of professionalism, first and foremost.

Farrell said watching his son as a proud dad was somewhat more difficult than as an opposition coach.

“You want your son to perform. You speak to any parent who is watching their son play for Ireland at the weekend, your fingers are crossed, hoping it goes well.

“When you’re a coach, you don’t feel like that. You don’t hope it goes well, you’re assessing things and you’re seeing how the plan is coming together or not. So you’re busy in your mind as a coach, you’ve got a distraction.

“But when you’re a parent, and I’m sure all parents would tell you the same, you’re just watching your son. You’re not watching the game as much as you would do as a coach.

Those times are often the toughest, such as last October at the World Cup in Japan when he stayed on after Ireland’s quarter-final exit to cheer on Owen’s progression with England to the final.

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“Now that was tough, now I was back to being a parent again and that is tougher than being a coach against your son that is playing on the opposition.

“I actually did the whole fan-family thing that day (of the semi-final) on purpose, to get back to how it felt before all this even happened.

“I went on the train with all the fans, enjoyed the atmosphere before the game, understood what it meant for my wife and the kids and that was tough because the nerves were through the roof as far as that’s concerned. But this is totally different.”

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