Andy Farrell: ‘I would have regretted not taking this one’
Joe Schmidt's Ireland replacement says he’ll need to ‘let people have their legs’
Andy Farrell was speaking after a typically full-on and open training session against the under-20s at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
He’s been cutting his teeth as an assistant coach for a decade with Saracens, England and Ireland, so Andy Farrell’s elevation to the position of Ireland head coach in succession to Joe Schmidt can hardly be described as hasty. He looks a natural fit, and à la the All Blacks model, his promotion after the World Cup ensures continuity and will be welcomed by the players.
Farrell was always going to try his hand one day and it’s clear that, having turned down other head coaching roles (and, apparently, the offer to return as English defence coach), this was the one he wanted above all. Hence he was primed for the job as soon as Schmidt confirmed he was stepping down last November.
Speaking for the first time since then, Farrell was asked when he decided to put his name in the hat. “When Joe had made his decision.”
That told us much, even if he quickly added: “Look, I was more than happy to keep going and keep learning off Joe.”
Released by the RFU as assistant coach when Eddie Jones succeeded Stuart Lancaster, no less than Leinster with Lancaster, the IRFU made a shrewd move when they secured Farrell’s services in succession to Les Kiss after the 2016 Six Nations.
The two-time Lions and Ireland Grand Slam defence coach did not arrive with the intention of succeeding Schmidt but, three years on, it seemed like a natural progression.
“Do you know what, I have always been very cautious in the fact that I have got a good job and you’ve got to be sure that you are ready for these things,” said Farrell.
“I was coming to a stage where jobs were being offered in the head coach role and I had said no to quite a few. I didn’t want to get to a stage where I was going to look back in the future and have regrets. I would have one hundred per cent regretted not taking this one.”
He believes he has a better idea now of what to expect. “The biggest change really is time management and making sure that you are across the managing up part and the managing down. As an assistant coach, you assist the head coach. That is your main role. But as head coach there will be more roles and responsibilities in and around, and on the outside of rugby. You will learn that as you go along and it is something I am fully aware of.”
‘A bit of humility’
Is he a good delegator?
“We will see. I believe I am. I think you need a bit of humility as well, to let people have their legs, and I have got good people who can manage with that type of thing as well.”
He has likened the north of England to Ireland. Both he and his wife, Colleen, are of Irish ancestry, and the decision to remain in Dublin means that Ireland has become home.
“We love it here for so many reasons. I could talk all day about the environment. But just being over here as a family is special as well. The people are so welcoming and warm. It does lead me to the thought process of why did my ancestors leave?” he said, laughing.
Future Ireland-England contests could pit Farrell as head coach against his son as England captain, although both men will continue playing a straight bat to any familial enquiries.
Asked if he took any consolation in ‘Owen Farrell’ playing so well against Ireland, Farrell senior smiled and said: “Do I take consolation? Not at the time, no.”
“He’s done well and they’re in a good space aren’t they? But like I said before there’s a long way to go in this tournament,” he added, before listing many of “the mouthwatering ties that are going to happen.”
Bring in new coaches
Similarly, although he will need to bring in new coaches given Schmidt and scrum coach Greg Feek are moving on, his eyes remain firmly fixed on the prize, ie the all-consuming Six Nations.
Farrell was speaking after a typically full-on and open training session against the under-20s at the Aviva Stadium, where all bar Andrew Porter, Ultan Dillane, John Cooney and Chris Farrell of the match-day 23 in Murrayfield took part.
“It was a big week, the Scottish week,” said Farrell. “There was disappointment in many different areas. It was a big game, we wanted to get back on the horse and get a W on the board. But a good performance individually and collectively came after.
“On top of that there are not many teams who come to Murrayfield these days and get a win. We have been picking the performance apart in the last couple of days but if you get back to before kick off, you are thinking, what is going to be a good outcome? A win would be a good outcome.”
“In my opinion, in terms of how the game went, I thought everyone has been talking about Scotland making too many errors in the second half, etc. I thought we got them to a point, probably on 50/55 minutes, where they had to start chasing the game a little, where we subconsciously grabbed hold of the game, and forced them to play a little differently. When you put that into context, I thought it was a super win.”