New criticism of England rugby for letting Andy Farrell leave

‘He is good at organising his team and filling up the space on the park. And he does that really well’

The England rugby football union has come under renewed flak, from Steve Hansen and now Lawrence Dallaglio, for letting Andy Farrell leave the fold.

“I know they tried to get him back,” said Hansen, after Ireland beat his All Blacks in Dublin. “Obviously they recognise something we all recognise.

“What’s he good at?” Hansen asked himself. “He is good at organising his team and filling up the space on the park. And he does that really well.”

This means defence.


"I couldn't watch the Irish defensive effort [against New Zealand] without lamenting the loss England suffered when Andy Farrell was allowed to slip through the net," wrote Dallaglio in the Sunday Times. "This is not hindsight talking. The moment Eddie Jones said no to Farrell, I thought it was a mistake."

Wigan's Rugby League Goliath throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Farrell made his coaching bones under Brendan Venter, then Mark McCall's directorship at Saracens, before joining England for three years as Stuart Lancaster's training ground lieutenant. Two successful Lions tours under Warren Gatland into Joe Schmidt's Ireland for almost three years has him "organising and filling up the space" to put the 43-year-old among the game's elite specialist coaches.

Not yet a head coach in its truest sense, Farrell has no direct experience, like, say, Lancaster would have from running Leeds Carnegie, the RFU academy and the all consuming national job that led to both men’s dismissal following England’s collapse at their home World Cup in 2015.

It wasn’t the mighty All Blacks that proved the undoing of these young coaches but Wales then Australia who ransacked Twickenham on their watch. Granted, Farrell has been involved with three separate teams that have beaten New Zealand four times alongside a draw and two defeats.

Despite Lancaster's Leinster contract ending next summer, Farrell has been framed as Schmidt's successor come 2020.

New ground

Perhaps the IRFU simply wants to appoint a head coach instead of replicating the dictatorial role Schmidt fills while breaking new ground for Irish rugby since 2013. Presumably, David Nucifora, the actual chief of the professional game on the island, will fully influence the big and small picture stuff like contracts.

If Ireland seek to follow the Schmidt model only Lancaster comes close for experience of the minutiae. The 49-year-old has immersed himself in the Leinster ways, reviving the province in Europe while nurturing the rise of Scott Penny, Caelan Doris et al before the public know such talent even exists.

Farrell was a clever IRFU appointment in January 2016, instantly creating the idea of succession-planning while providing Schmidt with an alpha personality on his coaching ticket, seemingly to help fill the void caused by Paul O’Connell’s retirement.

Temporarily re-routed to Munster, that four-month secondment, along with Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby's recent preseason in Belfast, should prove valuable next season and beyond.

So, after 6½ years of Schmidt maybe the IRFU just wants your regular world renowned coaching ticket. Although, besides the needs of Leinster, there isn’t any clear barrier to deny Farrell and Lancaster working together again.

Recent evidence – like Conor Murray’s contact being inked in September yet the rumour mill being allowed to fester for two months – tells us the IRFU 2023 coaching strategy has been internally agreed.


“My father, in his wisdom, used to say graveyards are full of people who thought they were indispensable,” said IRFU CEO Philip Browne last month when asked about Schmidt. “The reality is the plan can’t be built around one person, it has to be built around systems, processes and structures.”

It’s unclear where Schmidt and Lancaster will be working come 2020, but Farrell will remain under contract to Irish rugby.

“When Andy speaks, people listen,” said Dallaglio of his teammate en route to the 2007 World Cup final. “If he wants it, he will be the right man for the job.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent