Can you name the current international coach whose record against the All Blacks in this World Cup cycle stands at three wins, one draw and one defeat? Andy Farrell. Yes the same Andy Farrell jettisoned by England in the aftermath of a disastrous World Cup campaign in 2015 when the hosts failed to emerge from the pool stage. While the RFU boffins panicked and decided that all involved in the England coaching set-up were toxic and must be expunged, others saw things differently, the IRFU being one.
The subsequent years have been cathartic for Farrell and Lancaster, away from the intense glare and expectancy of the English media, rebuilding themselves in Ireland. They hadn’t become a bad coaches, with Sam Burgess testifying as such in recent explosive social media comments that it was “individual egos and selfish players not following our leader, which essentially cost the coach and other great men their jobs”, adding “Tournaments are not won by the coaching staff or one player.”
But when it came to trying to achieve British & Irish Lions success, Warren Gatland turned to Farrell (his defence coach in the 2013 Lions series win over the Wallabies) ahead of his long-time Wasps and Wales defensive lieutenant, Shaun Edwards, for the 2017 British & Irish Lions series, helping deliver a drawn series and keeping the All Blacks tryless in the second Test win.
Before that Joe Schmidt had coaxed Farrell to skip across the Irish Sea in 2016 to join his set-up after Les Kiss made his arrangement with Ulster permanent. Ireland had had a history success with defence coaches from Rugby League backgrounds, which started with Mike Ford in 2002, who spent four years under Eddie O’Sullivan and then Kiss who joined the fold in 2009 under Declan Kidney. Farrell has since reinforced this.
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Watch: Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt hints at departure before formal announcement
Farrell now gets his chance in the head coach role, a step up which Schmidt has endorsed fully. Rory Best said before Ireland’s November international with Argentina that Schmidt’s legacy would be the coaches that come through afterwards, who’d be shaped by the New Zealander’s influence citing the likes of Paul O’Connell, who’s now at Stade Francais.
But, of course, there’s no doubt working on a coaching ticket with Schmidt will also reap huge benefits. And after the World Rugby Awards, Best extolled the virtues of having Farrell in charge.
“I think probably the thing that Faz does better than any other coach, he makes it feel personal for him. He really buys into it. He stands in front of you, he’s a big frame, and he speaks, and it’s impossible not to like him.”
“But when he talks about defence, he makes you want to go and defend. If he talks about any aspect of the game, you just want to buy into it. He’s never happy with our defence, even though New Zealand didn’t score a try against us (in the recent 16-9 November international win), he was still saying we can do this better, we can do that better.
“He is driven. It’s all about perfection, it’s all about being driven and trying to be better. And if somebody gets in the way of us achieving that, we’ll go past them, over them, whatever it takes.”
Meanwhile over the on the other side of the water, a ‘despairing’ Sir Clive Woodward is ruing what England have missed out on, saying in the Daily Mail “Ireland’s gain is England’s loss”.
“First, congratulations, yet again, to Ireland for their clever and intelligent handling of their coaching succession,” he added.
“As for England missing out on a brilliant home-grown coach, I am almost filled with despair. Farrell has always been an outstanding individual, a great player and a coach of massive potential.”
As if to emphasise things England laboured to find an alternative to Paul Gustard as defence coach when he left for Harlequins in the summer, with Edwards opting for a return to Rugby League once his contract runs out at the end of the World Cup. Eventually John Mitchell got the role.
The IRFU put to bed any potential speculation over Schmidt’s successor with the drop of one press release, the man from Wigan, who at 43, has plenty of left in the tank for a potentially long and successful reign as Ireland head coach, will be in the job until 2023 at least. That news came on the same day that the RFU announced losses of £30.9m – the contrasts were stark, organisation versus chaos. The RFU’s succession plan revolves around Eddie Jones sticking around until 2021, with a head coach to come in by the end of the 2019/20 season to work with the Australian. In the meantime, there’s one that got away.
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