Andy Farrell ‘a forceful character, who usually gets what he wants’

When news broke of Andy Farrell’s appointment as Ireland’s new defence coach, there were two initial reactions.

The first was shock that this proud Englishman (though his brother Phil once played rugby league for Ireland) would either be offered or take on such a role, or that it had been done so quietly.

The second was that this could prove to be one of Joe Schmidt’s most inspired decisions.

Firstly, it must be acknowledged that Farrell’s stock has never been lower. Blame for England’s disastrous World Cup campaign — more of which later — was laid at his door as much as Stuart Lancaster’s.

But Farrell is still just 40, with a coaching pedigree which — with one enormous failure — is extremely impressive.

He helped lay the platform for Saracens’ impressive rise, being appointed first-team coach in 2010 after impressing as skills coach. Then England came calling, and Farrell moved on.

And if you look at his time with England as a whole, there is no doubt progress was made.

From a side reeling after the 2011 World Cup he helped bring young players through, such as George Ford, Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, and Jonathan Joseph.

He brought an intensity to the defensive system that England had previously lacked. In the four Six Nations he oversaw, they conceded 71, 78, 65, and 100 points respectively, with that last tally skewed by the nature of the final-day points chase against France.

The Arthur Harrison award was introduced for the team’s best defender, named after the only English international to win the Victoria Cross. Defending as a team and as individuals undoubtedly improved on his watch.

The criticism was more that he was unable to get the back division — and in particular the midfield — functioning as an attacking unit.

With his role under Schmidt limited to defence coach, that is not an issue Farrell has to deal with any more.

There will be other bonuses in his new post too, particularly the fact that he no longer has to hear whispers of nepotism.

Farrell strenuously denies he pushed for his son, Owen, to be selected over Ford due to their family ties, but the fact it was a topic for debate ensured it was an unneeded distraction.

Now, Farrell must instruct Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip on how to hunt down his own son, and potentially exploit his weaknesses in what will be a fascinating subplot in the 2017 Six Nations.

And Farrell’s reputation may well be healed by then. The World Cup experience was bruising, as many saw his dominant personality imprinted all over the England team.

If you have ever experienced the Farrell stare, it is not hard to see how he is a difficult man to say no to.

His influence was both obvious and subtle. A small but perhaps significant example is that he, rather than Lancaster, texted players to congratulate them for making the World Cup squad.

The suspicion — emphatically denied by both Lancaster and Farrell — was that this was the assistant coach’s team.

That was never more the case than in the selection of Farrell’s fellow rugby league convert Sam Burgess. Given time he may have proved a fine rugby union player, but that was a commodity England did not have.

His promotion was a grave error.

So England failed by a narrow margin against Wales and were outclassed by Australia — a defeat that made the coaches look silly but largely came about due to the Wallabies simply having better players. Farrell was always likely to lose his job after that humiliation, but he has not chosen to stay out of the limelight for long.

He has worked with some of the Irish players before when he impressed as assistant to Warren Gatland on the 2013 Lions tour, and he will be desperate to prove himself again.

He is a forceful character, not afraid to speak his mind and one who usually gets what he wants. But players respect him, and they can always sniff out a duff coach.

It was suspected he would succeed Lancaster in the end, but the events of last year changed all that.

Instead, Schmidt has appointed a knowledgeable, enthusiastic defence coach who has a point to prove after an awful few months. It may well prove a brilliant choice.


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