Jhe list of successful British sports fathers and sons is not as long as one might think. The Redknapps and Cloughs in football, Damon and Graham Hill in motor racing and Sir Ian and Liam Botham in cricket are perhaps the best known. In rugby union, the Youngs and Vunipola dynasties did a lot, as did the wider Hastings clan.
Has there ever been a duo, however, to match Andy and Owen Farrell? Take this weekend’s paper for example: Andy is shortlisted for the World Coach of the Year award, due to be announced in Monte Carlo on Sunday, while Owen is set to earn his 100th England cap against the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday. At the double whammy, it’s a real collector’s item.
Anyone with the slightest knowledge of either man will of course already be aware that individual accolades matter less to them than the numbers on the scoreboard on Saturday night. If Ireland lose to Australia in Dublin on Saturday, ‘Big Faz’ will see it as the undoing of all the good work of this autumn. And if England are beaten by New Zealand a few hours earlier, good luck extracting too many feel-good post-match quotes from their latest centurion.
It is still a collective stage to be applauded loudly. Even if it is other people who must provide the testimonies. The day that Owen, in particular, walks into an interview room, puts his feet up on the desk, and shares his hopes and fears with anyone willing to listen, is probably still a long way off. It was a major breakthrough a few years ago when he blurted out that he had a new puppy: the most common is that he delivers the stern message, “I just want to get better”, in different ways.
Eddie Jones, however, spoke well the other day about Farrell Jr, highlighting the qualities that make him so valuable to the national team. “If we don’t have Owen we lose a huge percentage of our fight. He’s the most energetic and committed rugby player I’ve ever seen. You know Owen is the third The best points scorer in rugby history? He is one of the greatest players of all time. He has won every trophy in the world except the Rugby World Cup – and he has a medal money, which isn’t bad. Sometimes I think he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
The England head coach is clearly right. Think of Owen’s previous 99 Tests for England since February 2012 and ask yourself how many of them were either horribly wrong or caused his goal kick to collapse under the pressure of the big occasion . Not many is the answer. If he smiled more in public, didn’t give referees such a seemingly tough time, or only tackled opponents around the ankles, he’d probably be a national treasure.
But it’s not Owen, or at least not the Owen on the court anyway. Other than that, new teammates are often surprised. “I sat next to him on the bus every day and he was laughing really good,” Wales’ Louis Rees-Zammit said after touring with the Lions in South Africa last year. “I didn’t really expect that.” The other day, even Farrell conceded that his personality on the pitch wouldn’t always do him many favors. “I would say the challenge for me is how I present myself sometimes when playing the game.”
Either way, there are few signs of a decline in strength. If anything, the best may be yet to come. Yes, there were games where things didn’t go as planned, the 2019 world cup final among them. Watching him for Saracens this season, however, has been to see a player who shows no signs of letting up. He could easily be the next Johnny Sexton who, at 37, continues to skilfully lead Leinster and Ireland. Farrell turned just 31 in September and will still be keen to compete in the 2027 World Cup.
This is where the singular professional paths of father and son begin to become more complex. Andy Farrell’s stewardship of Ireland is going so well that his side have every chance of battling for every major trophy in the world for the rest of Farrell Jr’s career. What the Irish team might once have missed in terms of consistent physical and mental toughness, they now possess it in abundance. Where does this come from? They don’t name many softies as captain of the UK rugby league team and Farrell was given the role when he was 21.
For him to subsequently become World Coach of the Year in a different sport would arguably be even more remarkable. The other shortlisted candidates are Frenchman Fabien Galthié, England women’s coach Simon Middleton and his Black Ferns counterpart Wayne Smith, but Farrell’s success in guiding Ireland to a historic series win in New Zealand must surely give it a decent shot.
As for his son, maybe he was always meant to be a piece of the old block. “All I remember is watching my dad play and how he was, not just what he did,” said Farrell Jr. “You have to be a voice, you have to be able to talk.” As England prepare to take on the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday, what’s the most intimidating presence in rugby: the haka or the Farrell family? Nowadays, it is more and more the latter.
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