Shaun Edwards was only 25 when he adopted the role of father figure to a teenage Andy Farrell.
The latter’s beginnings with Wigan are legend now. No-one needs reminding that he was only 16 when his son Owen was born in 1991. Or that his debut against Keighley in the Regal Trophy came two months to the day after he had become a dad.
Alongside him that first day in the famous red and white hoops was the man now tasked with the job of shoring up France’s defence, an already storied figure who had first been blooded by their hometown club eight years before as a 17-year old against York.
“He looked after me massively when I came through as a kid,” said Farrell. “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, you know’. He was great for me in those first couple of years, I learned a lot.”
It wouldn’t be the first time that Farrell followed in those footsteps.
Farrell and Edwards, due to meet again should the France-Ireland Six Nations game still go ahead next Saturday week, will always be linked inextricably in the popular consciousness given their legendary playing careers in league and high-profile coaching CVs in union.
Six years with Wigan was the bulk of their shared experiences at club level before Edwards moved on to the London Broncos in 1997. That apart there was a single season crossover with Great Britain and something similar spent in the same England dressing-room.
Farrell and Edwards aren’t the only players to have emerged from that hyper-competitive and ridiculously successful Wigan environment and made a name for themselves on the other side of the white line. They are merely the most famous to have done so.
Joe Lydon is the IRFU’s head of international talent ID and development and Shaun Wane was Scotland’s high performance coach until vacating the role last month. Kris Radlinski is Wigan’s general manager while Phil Clarke spent a season as chief executive back in the late 90s...
The list goes on and Farrell is is no way taken aback by its length.
“It’s the same culture that we see now from Leinster and Munster over the years. You get a dominant period over a 10-15-17-year time and you get to see the reasons why the people involved achieve that success. They understand it. They are able to deal with the pressures.”
Few better, or for as long, as himself and Edwards.
Farrell was an ageing superstar struggling with injury and a new code at Saracens during the second-half of Edwards’ successful 10-year spell as head coach with Wasps. They crossed paths time and again this last decade in their guises as defence coaches in the Six Nations.
Edwards served as defensive guru to Warren Gatland on the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2009 but it was Farrell who claimed the role for the 2013 and 2017 versions despite the fact that his old teammate was part of the New Zealander’s Welsh brains trust at the time.
Their next shared chapter will extend this sporting relationship into a fourth decade although Edwards and France have business in Murrayfield before that happens while Farrell can spend this week and next plotting for ways to get one over his old mucker.
Easier said than done.
In their eight seasons together, Gatland and Edwards claimed two Grand Slams, three Six Nations championship and a pair of Triple Crowns. Wales were in no way a prolific attacking team so Edwards’ work was a cornerstone of everything they did and did well.
It’s not immediately evident in the stats. Wales conceded an average of 18.5 points per game over Edwards’ time with the team. That’s far from shabby but Ireland (17.7), England (17.4) and, not least, New Zealand (16.2) all boasted better figures across that stretch.
A similar story is unfolding now that Edwards has moved to France.
Les Bleus have won all three of their games so far in the championship. A first title and Grand Slam in ten years is now in their sights under new head coach Fabien Galthié and yet they have conceded more points and more tries than every other side bar Italy.
“Well, he’s not just had an influence on the defence,” said Farrell. “He has had an influence on the way they play. They keep the ball in, exactly the way Wales used to do. So he has obviously taken his lessons from what made Warren’s 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.”