England outcast Andy Farrell has rebuilt his reputation in his new role as Ireland defence coach, putting to one side his home country’s dismal World Cup campaign once and for all. But what exactly has the former league legend brought to his adopted nation’s table?
One thing that is well known about Farrell is his reputation as a player in rugby league – one of Britain’s best ever players: one of only three individuals to have won the Super League’s ‘Man Of Steel’ award more than once, winning four Challenge Cups and a Super League Grand Final, as well as captaining Wigan for nine seasons.
It was his stellar record in league that persuaded the RFU to sign up Farrell to union in conjunction with Saracens. Although the Wiganer made England’s World Cup squad in 2007, knee injuries and a lack of time to make the transition to his new code meant Farrell’s union cover was short-lived.
However, Farrell’s experiences in both sports mean he is universally respected by players and coaches alike, and it’s something Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray highlighted during the country’s tour of South Africa last summer (via RTE):
“Defensively, with Andy coming in, he brings a huge amount of experience and a massive amount of energy when we do defend.
“There’s a bit of a buzz about the defensive sessions and he’s brought his own experiences and ideas to it, and the guys are really loving it.
“Training with him, the talks you have off the pitch, he just fills you full of confidence and makes you want to go and defend for each other, which is a natural thing for us.”
Farrell is also fantastic at instilling a mindset in his players where they feel they are good enough to win and can compete with the very best, something that is extremely difficult to achieve when your country hadn’t previously beaten the team they were facing in the history of the sport.
On the eve of the match at Soldier Field, Farrell himself said (via The42):
“You’ve got to believe. You’ve got to believe in your plan, you’ve got to commit to it 100% and you’ve got to go out there and have a good old shake of it. There’s no point coming over here and just sitting back and going along for the occasion.”
But more importantly, Farrell is excellent at bringing a clarity to defensive roles and improving the line speed of his players. During his time in charge England’s defence was consistently good, with a few notable exceptions. It was his clarity of thought that was always a constant during the Stuart Lancaster, which was sadly not replicated when the players had the ball in hand – something Eddie Jones has worked hard to bring to the fore.
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But against the All Blacks every Irish player knew their specific roles and responsibilities in defence, no better encapsulated than in both props Jack McGrath and Tadhg Furlong who were ferocious and intelligent in their tackles, taking out key players in New Zealand’s attack at pivotal moments.
Across the park Ireland defended heroically, making 119 of their 135 attempted tackles (88%) in comparison to New Zealand’s 86/97 (89%), but most importantly kept their discipline throughout. The men in green conceded only 4 penalties throughout the match compared to New Zealand’s 12.
Individual defensive heroics were witnessed right across the park with the back row of CJ Stander (14), Josh Van Der Flier (13) and Jamie Heaslip (10) making a combined 37 tackles. In contrast, Liam Squire (7), Sam Cane (11) and Kieran Read (8) were not so dominant.
In the midfield, centre Robbie Henshaw acted as a fourth back rower (much in the way as Brad Barritt used to) making 12 tackles to cut off New Zealand’s attacking pivot at its source with Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa and Codie Taylor facing a torrid time all game.
Former Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman summed up Farrell’s contribution succinctly (via Newstalk):
“I think Farrell is a massive influence in terms of just our defence, system, accountability with players and just having another winner in the back-room staff; a guy who’s massively respected, has played in the biggest occasions and has no fear of anybody. The more of those you get in and around your environment, the more likely you are going to be successful.”
With Farrell involved, a first win on South African soil and a first ever win against the All Blacks under their belts, Ireland too are quickly restoring their reputation as one of the best sides in world rugby.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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