It is probably the biggest match of this years Six Nations so far. The Irish come to Twickenham with a new head coach and fresh momentum, back from a scarring World Cup experience with something to prove. England themselves have looked unconvincing so far, but when this team gets it right, they are unplayable. Both teams need a win, both will be desperate to get it.
Add into this sporting, professional, historic rivalry a unique family element and you have all the ingredients for a sporting spectacle like no other. Andy Farrell, now head coach of Ireland, is coming up against his son, just sixteen years his junior, Owen Farrell, captain of England. It is an obvious story, one that has filled inches and inches of columns before, but it is entertaining and exciting and intriguing nonetheless. There is no comparable meeting like it in elite sport.
The two are consummate professionals. Hard nosed, focused, competitive animals. There is no conflict of interests here, both will want to win. But the dynamic is just so interesting. A defeat for either here could do some damage to their career, could stall Ireland’s early momentum, could leave England’s post World Cup rebuild looking like a decidedly more demanding a job. Somewhere, up in the sky, Freud will be watching on with glee.
When asked about the prospect of coming up against his son last week in Dublin, Farrell senior brushed it aside, “honestly, I’ve not even thought about it.” At Murrayfield, true to form, Owen did the same, “every time we’ve played Ireland since my dad’s been there I’ve been asked questions about that,” he said. “I can’t see this being too different. We’re just trying to do our job.”
A joint interview, from 2008, which can be found on World Rugby’s YouTube is perhaps the most candid and enlightening watch for those trying to understand the relationship. In it, the two Farrells are together at Saracens training, both playing together under the then Saracens head coach Eddie Jones, and look strikingly similar. ‘If he works really hard, and if he works as hard as his Dad, he’s gonna be a good player,’ says Jones.
‘He never wins anything,’ says Andy, ‘I would never let him win.’ The competitive edge is evident on both of their faces. However, ‘it’s getting to that stage now,’ he goes on, ‘where I have to be on my toes.’ To which Owen quips, ‘it was at that stage about five years ago.’
Owen, for his part, praises his Dads leadership skills, saying they are something he himself believes he’s inherited. Andy suggests they come from Owen’s mother, rather than himself. The two bounce off one another, smiling, taking the mick, a sense of professionalism and rivalry and banter running through the whole video. All in all, it is extraordinary to think that, twelve years later, they meet as leaders of separate international sides.
Written by Joe Ronan.