'He's the sort of person you want to follow' - Farrell leading England by example

The 28-year-old Saracens man is the heartbeat of Eddie Jones’ team.

OWEN FARRELL’S SMIRKING staredown of the haka last weekend has already become a widely-shared image and if England can back up their semi-final win over the All Blacks on Saturday by beating the Springboks, it will likely become an iconic one.

The 28-year-old is the captain and heartbeat of this England team, with his combination of ferocious competitiveness, calm leadership, high work-rate, and skillful game management encapsulating so much of what is good about Eddie Jones’ side.

england-training-session-fuchu-asahi-football-park Farrell speaks to his England team at training in Tokyo. Source: Adam Davy

Seeing Farrell greatly exaggerating a shove to the head from New Zealand’s Sam Whitelock last weekend was disappointing but there is no questioning the Englishman’s toughness.

Despite playing at inside centre or out-half, the Saracens man is as much of an enforcer as anyone in the England team. He is ceaselessly aggressive and loud in defence, throwing himself into contact with a sometimes reckless abandon.

Among the highlights of the brilliant Rising Sons series the England media team have produced before and during this World Cup have been Farrell’s calm words to his team. Very often, they are simple reminders of how good a training session England have just done but there is so much conviction and control in Farrell’s words.

Jones’ decision to discard previous captain Dylan Hartley has been fully justified as Farrell has been the ideal leader for this team. 

“He has been a leader since I have known him at 14,” says England hooker Jamie George, who also plays with Farrell at Saracens. “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’s the sort of person you want to follow. He leads from the front but at the same time, 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.”

owen-farrell-and-kieran-read-after-the-game Farrell has led England by example. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Farrell leads what England call their ‘captain’s meeting’ every Friday, on the eve of games.

None of the coaches come into the room, players only. Sometimes the meetings are a few minutes long, other times they can run for more than half an hour. Either way, Farrell invariably hits the right note.

“He just asks us how we are feeling and if anyone has anything to say,” explains George. “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.

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“Everyone is hanging on every word he 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.”

Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes often speak up in the captain’s meetings too, with Farrell encouraging others to voice their thoughts.

“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,” says George. “He often draws on their feelings and experiences and sees how they’re feeling.

“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! He gets that balance quite nice and it sets the tone for the build-up.

“Because Owen talks a lot about how 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.”

owen-farrell-acknowledges-the-crowd-after-the-game Farrell leads a captain's meeting every Friday. Source: Craig Mercer/INPHO

It would be riveting to sit in on the England captain’s meeting tomorrow as Farrell sets out their stall for the World Cup final against South Africa.

The Saracens man will undoubtedly lead by example once again on the pitch in Yokohama on Saturday, proving once again that he is a chip off the old block in some regards.

His father, Ireland head coach Andy, who has remained in Japan to support his son, is renowned as a superb leader, although George explains that Owen has his own way of guiding his England team.

“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.” 

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Murray Kinsella

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