Forget the debacle that was England’s World Cup campaign, Ireland believe that in landing Andy Farrell as their new defence coach, they have staged a coup in hiring a British & Irish Lions series winner.
The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) was understandably “delighted” yesterday to reveal Farrell’s appointment as successor to Les Kiss, with the former Rugby League legend taking up the role in head coach Joe Schmidt’s backroom staff after the 2016 RBS 6 Nations Championship.
Farrell will join the Ireland coaching set-up, having been assistant coach with England from 2011 to 2015, a role which ended in World Cup failure for Stuart Lancaster’s squad when the hosts were eliminated at the pool stage, following calamitous defeats at Twickenham to Wales and Australia.
Farrell, along with Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt, followed Lancaster off the England payroll in December as the RFU wiped the slate clean, appointing Aussie Eddie Jones to lead the team to the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Yet, the 40-year-old Farrell, Wigan-born and a hometown hero in league, who represented Great Britain with distinction between 1993 and 2004, before switching codes to union and playing for Saracens and England, was not out of work for long. Furthermore, his IRFU contract will run until the next World Cup, which, arguably, makes him a candidate to succeed Schmidt should he not seek to extend his stay beyond his current deal, which expires in the summer of 2017.
Regardless of his future role, Farrell’s appointment as Ireland defence coach represents a major signing for the IRFU, with all those who worked under the Englishman on the 2013 series-winning Lions tour to Australia glowing in their praise.
Munster’s Keith Earls has not yet played in a Farrell-coached side, but, as a long-term room-mate of Paul O’Connell, he has heard at first hand of the new man’s capabilities and called the move an “incredible appointment”.
“Paulie had great praise for him,” said Earls. “Hopefully, I’ll get to work with him. It’s exciting, he’s a fella I admired as a Rugby League player and a Rugby Union player and as a coach and what he’s done with the Lions as well.
“He seems to have this persona and confidence about him that any team he works with seem to want to run through a wall for him.
“It’s probably going to be interesting the week of an England game, when he’s coaching against his son (fly-half Owen Farrell), but he’s a professional fella, he’ll go about his business and, hopefully, I’ll get a chance to work with him.”
Earls was one of 11 Munster players attending a short Ireland camp last Sunday and Monday, when Schmidt and forwards coach Simon Easterby took charge of defence sessions.
“The lads took the sessions on Monday. We thought Joe and Simon were going to do it themselves. They probably will for the Six Nations, but it’s an incredible appointment.”
Quoted in the official announcement from the IRFU, Schmidt said: “The quality of his delivery and breadth of his experience, as well as the positive impact he had when coaching a number of our senior players during the 2013 Lions tour, will add real value for us.”
Farrell added: “To have this opportunity to work with a very talented management and playing group really excites me. With a wealth of top-class experienced senior players and a fantastic crop of youngsters pushing hard the future is very positive for Irish rugby and I can’t wait to get started.”
Farrell will have to wait until this June’s three-Test tour of South Africa to get properly stuck into his three-year contract, but if the Lancastrian replicates his Lions tour approach — preaching “try-scoring defence”, “urgency and energy” — he is sure to make an instant impact.
“Fucking destroy and enjoy,” was a Farrell mantra to the 2013 Lions and in a team talk on the tour the two-time RFL Man of Steel award winner said: “We don’t see defence in isolation at all, we see defence as the start of our attack. On D, we cannot afford to allow our emotional energy to dip whatsoever. We are taking them to the hurt arena.”
It is the type of tough talking that players respond to and Farrell’s reputation has long caught the attention of fellow coaches, also.
“It’s a good appointment,” said Munster head coach Anthony Foley. “It’s good to have that quality in and around the squad. He’s come from a Rugby League background; when Wigan were a force, it was him and Shaun Edwards that were the driving force behind that from his late teenage years, so he’s done it all the way through and he got into coaching, came into union and excelled at that, too.
“He’ll have an opinion. He won’t come in there and go through the motions. He’s worked with Warren Gatland in the Lions and all the feedback from the players who have worked with him has been extremely positive.”
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