Farrell’s cool hand guiding England towards ultimate prize
Hooker George says squad taking their cue from their inspirational captain
England hooker Jamie George during a training session at Fuchu Asahi Football Park ahead of the World Cup final. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Like father, like son. Owen Farrell didn’t lick his uber competitive streak off the pavement.
Many of his earliest childhood memories are of being in the Wigan dressing-room and watching his dad’s stellar rugby league playing career before his switch to union – luckily for England – ensured Owen followed suit.
He was, clearly, born to play rugby and to lead. Making him the permanent England captain for this year’s Six Nations, having captained the team in Dylan Hartley’s injury-enforced absence and then shared the duties with him as co-captain, was one of Eddie Jones’ smartest moves.
Like his father, he bats away all questions about their relationship, but anyone who doubts Farrell junior is England’s spiritual leader as well as being a warrior need only listen to Jamie George.
The English hooker, who has also been coached by Farrell senior on the Lions tour to New Zealand two years ago, this week said: “It is nice that I have worked with both of them. But I’d say Owen is putting his own stamp on things. They have the same aura about them. Andy is incredibly inspirational in his own right but they do it in different ways.
“I never worked with Andy as a player. There is always a difference between the message you need to deliver as a captain and the message you need to deliver as a coach. There are certain parallels between the two of them – the accent is one of them! The nice thing is that Owen has developed a leadership style now that is his own. And it is pretty impressive.”
Both players came through the Saracens academy after Farrell was converted from league to union, and George has watched Farrell’s growth as a player and person since.
“It has been brilliant. He has been a leader since I have known him at 14. Back then it was probably a lot more shouting because of frustration more than anything but now I think he has just developed a huge amount.
“As a leader I can’t speak highly enough of him. He is the sort of person you want to follow. He leads from the front but at the same time I think the big thing is that he is a person you can trust because you know first of all that he is probably the best at it in terms of his rugby ability but also the amount of tape that he watches.
“You know for a fact that the messages that he is giving you, he has been thinking over and over again. He is very good at delivering a theme and messages that build up nicely throughout the week.”
“I just can’t wait for Friday. That is his meeting, Friday night we have a meeting and we like to call it a captain meeting, a team meeting. There are no coaches in the room. He just asks us how we are feeling and if anyone has anything to say.
“Often people will get something off their chest if they are thinking about the game and then he says his bit and without fail you could hear a pin drop. Everyone is hanging on every word that he says. It is very inspirational without tearing the roof down because that is probably not what is needed but he has a very good feel of what the team needs and what messages he needs to deliver.”
These meetings are of variably length, according to George.
“There’s been short meetings, there have been meetings that have lasted half an hour/40 minutes. It varies pretty much on how much the other lads want to speak. Often they don’t. But there’s usually Mako will say his piece, Maro often has a little bit, Courtney speaks a little bit.
“I think in Owen’s mind it’s quite nice to hear from people who haven’t been speaking, who haven’t got a huge leadership role in the team. He often draws on their feelings and experiences, and sees how they’re feeling.”
These meeting are, George revealed, also more emotional than tactical.
“I’d say it is. There is always going to be an element of tactical talk in that. But yes, I’d say 90 per cent emotion, ten per cent tactical. But it’s not shouting and screaming – you are able to get your head down to sleep after it! No one is crying in there – oh, I don’t know, I might do this week,” George quipped.
“He gets that balance quite nice and it sets the tone then for the build-up. Because Owen talks a lot about the build-up starts through the week but it also starts from the minute you wake up on the Saturday – the image you give off to the people around you, even in the way you walk to breakfast. You are always constantly giving off a message to other people, about what your mindset is and how you are feeling.”
George having given this insight, it would be interesting to learn if this week’s meeting will be a briefer or longer affair than normal, but the hooker anticipated it will be shorter than normal.
“Potentially, yeah. Although I feel like there might be a few people – for me, I have certainly been in those meetings and I felt like I have needed to say something. I don’t know whether I will on Friday but there might be some people in the team who feel like they need to speak. And they often need that more for their own sake than the team’s sake. It probably will be shorter.”
Come match day, it’s also surprising to learn that Farrell exudes a certain calmness.
“On the field he is still vocal. In the changing room, I don’t think he’s ever been shouty. He is very calm, he has got a lot calmer, I’d say. He talks a lot about being in control of your emotions. That is something he has learnt a lot through his younger years but he is calm, delivers messages.”
“There are times when we haven’t been quite on it in the warm-up, but it never is a tough message, it’s never a shouty message. You see it in his eyes, it’s a look - like, if he asks for more, we’re going to give him more, that’s the way that he is.”
George himself is a keen cricketer.
“A dream of mine would be to be a dual international. I’ve probably got other things to focus on in the next few days but then potentially I might start thinking about it.”
England are, of course, attempting to emulate their cricketing counterparts, and for George there is one obvious lesson from the achievement of Eoin Morgan’s team when overcoming New Zealand in the sport’s first ever super over.
“Fine margins isn’t it? I think a big thing that I have thought about is your ability to perform your skill under the highest pressure,” said George, recalling Jason Roy’s gather and throw from the boundary and Jos Buttler whipping off the bails in the game’s final act.
“Doing your job under pressure. I read a bit with Jason Roy saying all he could think about was getting the ball into his hands. He was thinking about the process rather than thinking about the big picture.”
George has also chatted with Morgan.
“I’ve spoken to him a few times more around the culture rather than the World Cup final but I watched an interview with him that was pretty interesting, sat in the outfield at Lord’s, talking about the culture of the team but also the mindset of the team going into their final. They had been through a bit more of a rollercoaster ride than we have in this tournament but there are certain similarities over the last two seasons or so.”
Outstanding as the Lions’ starting hooker, it’s still somewhat surprising that Jones didn’t make the 29-year-old George England’s first-choice hooker until last summer’s tour of South Africa. Hence, although the final will be his 45th Test for England’s, it’s only his 19th with the ‘2’ on his back.
George’s form has been excellent ever since, his set-piece work complimenting his truly exceptional handling skills in the loose, and he gives much of the credit to forwards’ coach Steve Borthwick.
“I was thinking about it recently, he’s the most impressive professional I’ve worked with in my entire career. I think he’s probably had the biggest influence on my career up to date, even in the short time that we’ve been working together.
He hails Borthwick’s demanding standards in training, his cleverness and his “incredible understanding of what the team needs and what you need as an individual”.
Welcoming the credit coming Borthwick’s way, George said: “The way he’s been building us as a forward pack over the last four years has come to fruition over the last few weeks. He deserves a lot of credit for that.”