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Seibold's eye-opening 2018 meeting at Saracens with Owen Farrell

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

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Funny how it all turns out. Anthony Seibold pitched up for his first media session as an England assistant this week and he spent ample time talking about the lasting first impression Owen Farrell had on him when he first came across Eddie Jones’ national team skipper during a visit to Saracens in 2018. At the time Seibold was an in-demand NRL coach striving to do even better than he had done in that year’s Australian league with South Sydney Rabbitohs.

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He reckoned a reconnaissance trip to the UK to check out the mechanics powering some rugby union teams would be just the treat. Little could he have imagined, though, that just three years later he would be working alongside Farrell with England rather than listening to the talisman in a Saracens meeting room and being impressed by what he heard.  

It was the previous year – 2017 – when Seibold, the new England defence coach, first struck up a rapport with Jones who paid a visit to the coach’s NRL club. They kept in touch and Jones’ England was one of the stopping points during a wide-ranging UK trip that preceded his switch to the Brisbane Broncos.   

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“I did a tour here in 2018, that was the end of the season when I was coaching South Sydney Rabbitohs so I visited Eddie here at Pennyhill Park, I visited Wales, I spoke to the regional coaches there. I spent some time with Gregor (Townsend) up in Scotland and also had time at Saracens,” explained Seibold about his travels three years ago.

“I was really impressed with what I saw there. Alex Sanderson, the (current) Sale coach, was the defence coach there, so I got to listen to him in the meetings and one thing I walked away with was the leadership and the way that Owen spoke in meetings really resonated with me. I fall back to some of the key senior players I have coached over my time – I just thought the way he spoke was very clear with regards to what he wanted and he certainly supported what the coaches wanted there.”

Asked which rugby league characters Farrell had reminded him of, England newcomer Seibold continued: “Guys like Cameron Smith and Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, John Sutton, the guys who have a real presence in the team meeting room or the locker room. They have the ability to not only lead with their actions but also coach their peers in team meetings. So just when I walked away and made some notes on what I saw at Saracens, that was one of the big things that I wrote down, just the way that he [Farrell] spoke, it was very clear. The coaches had some good clarity in their meetings when I was there and Owen gave great clarity to the players in the room and I have seen that here (with England). 

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“That was what I was elaborating on, the players who have a key presence in the meeting room and I saw that a couple of years ago (with Owen) and we still see that. The good thing is I have seen that from a number of the players here. There are some leaders from the different clubs and peer to peer coaching is really crucial when you want to drive high standards and you want to improve as a group collectively and individually.”

Before getting into the trenches with England for this Autumn Nations Series featuring matches versus Tonga, Australia and South Africa, Seibold ensured he caught up with captain Farrell to get an insight into how the defence was done at Test level under Jones.  

“Before we came into camp I contacted Owen and had a Zoom catch up and a bit of a chat about defence and the areas that he is saying they might have done well over the last couple of seasons and some areas we can be better with. He is a real leader with our D, him along with Courtney Lawes and Jonny May on the wing, they are three guys who have seen a real impact on the D, so I has a really good opportunity a few years ago and he was great to see up close and now working with him I see his appetite to be a leader and I have enjoyed the last few weeks.”

Switching to his defensive coaching philosophy, Seibold explained that it wasn’t the build of the player wearing the No10 jersey for England that was most important. Instead, attitude was the priority. “What we have done is we have trained players in multiple positions,” he revealed. “Going forward this doesn’t necessarily mean that Owen’s best position is ten or it is twelve. He is capable of playing both and played both previously. 

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“What I like in a ten doesn’t matter, it doesn’t really matter for me as long as they communicate and have the attitude to get their body in front. They are the two big things and I like what Owen brings in that area of the game but I also like what (George) Furbank did on the weekend. Marcus Smith as well, he has improved that part of his game. We have got some guys who can wear the No10 who are really capable defenders as well. 

“One of the things I have seen with Marcus is he is willing to get his body in front. It doesn’t matter how big you are, how small you are, it is an attitude and he brings that attitude. He always wants to get better. Since I have been here he is always talking about doing extras after training and he is very consistent with regards to looking at his defensive clips, so he sees that as an area of his game that is really important. 

“Rugby is a game where there are always contests. One of the contests in the game is the defensive contest and Marcus brings a willingness to get his body in front. Owen does as well and I couldn’t have been more impressed with Furbank as well on the weekend. We are working really hard on that part of our game. I am not biased towards bigger players or smaller players, it’s an attitude.”

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