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From Central Park to central characters in Ireland/France rivalry

Shaun Edwards mentored Andy Farrell when the Ireland coach was a teenager at Wigan, now they are set to go up against one another next week.

Andy Farrell playing for Wigan in 1996.
Andy Farrell playing for Wigan in 1996.
Image: EMPICS Sport

ON THE NIGHT Andy Farrell made his professional debut Shaun Edwards was waiting for him.

This was 29 years ago, Farrell was 16, a teenage father, a prodigy. Edwards was rugby league royalty. Yet, in Farrell, he saw a kindred spirit.

“Shaun is a lot older than me but I would say that he wanted to go into coaching from birth,” Farrell said. “We have had a similar type of pathway and I could tell from the minute I made my debut with him what type of character he is. He looked after me massively when I came through as a kid.

“I remember him taking me to his agent on the first day I played for Wigan and he said ‘I’m going to look after you, you know’. He was great for me in those first couple of years, I learned a lot.”

Now the people learning from Edwards are the French, three from three since he became their defence coach, a position he held successfully with Wasps and then Wales. Standing in the opposite side of the ring, meanwhile, is Farrell, another son of Wigan.  “You get a dominant period over a 10 to 15-year timeframe and you get to see the reasons why the people involved achieve that success. They understand it. They are able to deal with the pressures.”

So far in this tournament, France have sustained serious pressure, first from England, then Wales and for the first time in nearly a decade, they are a team to be feared, not just respected. How much does Farrell credit Edwards for this?
“Well, he has not just had an influence on the defence. He has had an influence on the way they play. They keep the ball in, exactly the way Wales used to do. So he has obviously taken his lessons from what made Warren’s side very successful over the years – so fair play to France for allowing him to do that. You saw the performance against Wales, it certainly worked for them and it allowed them get a very good victory away from home.”

frances-defence-coach-shaun-edwards-2222020 Edwards has made a huge difference to France since he joined. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

From Johnny Sexton’s perspective, this is the best French team he has seen since 2011.

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The Ireland captain said: “This is the best coached they have been, anyway. They seem to be in it together, seem to have a good relationship with the coaches and that I don’t think was always the case down there.

“Obviously they’re probably more inexperienced than they have been in years but it seems to be working for them, that selection strategy. They are going to be a tough team to play against because they’re big and physical in the pack and have a backline that are pretty dangerous and in form.

“So we’re preparing for a good French team and we know that we have to be a lot better than we were last week.”

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Garry Doyle

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