[This article was originally published in the build-up to Ireland’s clash with England at Twickenham in February.]
This isn’t exactly new territory for Andy Farrell.
The Ireland head coach has been involved in the national setup on these shores since 2016 when he performed the role of defence coach under Joe Schmidt.
In that time, he has coached against his son, Owen, on four occasions as Ireland defence coach. Two wins in 2017 and 2018 followed by the two losses in 2019.
But now as head coach, he goes to Twickenham next weekend in just his third game in charge where he will be keen to develop a game plan to negate the influence of his son.
How would he describe that?
“I know, it’s weird, isn’t it?” Farrell said with a wry smile on Thursday afternoon.
“Well, honestly, yeah, it is weird because I know it’s weird for you guys but it’s certainly not weird for us because it’s never been any different. It’s as professional as it gets because that’s all we’ve ever known with Owen being a professional and me being a professional coach. It’s never been any different.
“The hardest part is certainly for Colleen [Andy Farrell’s wife]. Yeah, 100 percent. And Owen’s sisters, and the young fella Gabriel [Andy Farrell’s son], it’s weird for them.
“They’ve got unbelievably mixed emotions, I’ve no doubt, because they’re only human, but I suppose how do they try and come to terms with it? I suppose they think that, they hope that, both sides do well.
“And that’s not going to happen, is it? So it’s a difficult one for them.”
Farrell uses the word “proud” consistently when discussing this topic. Whether it’s describing his Irish roots or his relationship with Owen in the context of professional rugby and the media attention which it provides.
“You know what, there is an element of….I am proud of the situation, I am as far as a father and him as a son, I am proud of how it is handled because it is one of the utmost respect, but of professionalism, first and foremost.”
Both Andy and Owen have been involved in professional sport for the entirety of their adult lives so it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that they have found some sort of middle ground in their relationship which balances the natural affection in a father-son bond and that of elite sport.
Nevertheless, it will remain an interesting dynamic, especially when it goes up another level when Ireland and England meet in Twickenham on Sunday week.
Farrell did let the professional mask slip late last year when he went to support his son in the semi-final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup as England produced one of their best performances to knock out favourites, New Zealand.
Farrell, with his Ireland side already out of the tournament, admits that was a tough day emotionally.
“Now that was tough, now I was back to being a parent again and that is tougher than being a coach against your son that is playing on the opposition.
“I actually did the whole fan-family thing that day on purpose, to get back to how it felt before all this even happened.
“I went on the train with all the fans, enjoyed the atmosphere before the game, understood what it meant for my wife and the kids and that was tough because the nerves were through the roof as far as that’s concerned.
“But this is totally different. Totally different to that.”
“Well you want your son to perform, don’t you? You speak to any parent who is watching their son play for Ireland at the weekend, your fingers are crossed, hoping it goes well.
“When you’re a coach, you don’t feel like that. You don’t hope it goes well, you’re assessing things and you’re seeing how the plan is coming together or not. So you’re busy in your mind as a coach, you’ve got a distraction.
“But when you’re a parent, and I’m sure all parents would tell you the same, you’re just watching your son. You’re not watching the game as much as you would do as a coach.”
The natural balance that this professional father-son duo have perfected over the years will be put to the ultimate challenge next weekend. Andy Farrell travels to Twickenham knowing that a win over his son’s team will secure him his first piece of silverware as the Ireland head coach – the Triple Crown.