The list of successful British sporting fathers and sons is not as long as you might think. The Redknapps and the Cloughs in football, Damon and Graham Hill in motor racing and Sir Ian and Liam Botham in cricket are perhaps the most widely known. In rugby union the Youngs and Vunipola dynasties have achieved plenty, as has the extended Hastings clan.
Has there ever been a duo, though, to match Andy and Owen Farrell? Take this weekend’s diary for example: Andy is on the shortlist for the World Coach of the Year award, due to be announced in Monte Carlo on Sunday, while Owen is set to win his 100th England cap against the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday. As double whammies go, it is a genuine collector’s item.
Anyone with the slightest knowledge of either man will, of course, already be aware individual accolades matter rather less to them than the numbers on the scoreboard on Saturday evening. If Ireland lose to Australia in Dublin on Saturday “Big Faz” will see it as undoing all the good work of this autumn. And if England are thumped by New Zealand a few hours earlier, good luck with extracting too many feelgood post-match quotes from their latest centurion.
This is still a collective milestone to be loudly applauded, nevertheless. Even if it is other people who need to provide the testimonies. The day Owen, in particular, breezes into an interview room, puts his feet up on the desk and shares his unguarded hopes and fears with anyone prepared to listen is probably still a while off. It was a major breakthrough a few years ago when he let slip he had a new puppy: more common is for him to deliver the stern message, “I just want to get better”, in assorted ways.
Eddie Jones, though, spoke well the other day about Farrell Jr, highlighting the qualities that make him so valuable to the national team. “If we don’t have Owen then we lose a huge percentage of our fight. He is the most energetic and one of the most committed rugby players I’ve ever seen. You know Owen is the third highest points scorer in rugby history? He’s one of the all-time greats of the game. He’s won every trophy in the world apart from the Rugby World Cup – and he’s got a silver medal, which isn’t bad. Sometimes I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves.”
The England head coach clearly has a point. Think of Owen’s 99 previous Tests for England since February 2012 and ask yourself how many of them have either gone disastrously wrong or involved his goal-kicking collapsing under the strain of the big occasion. Not many is the answer. If he smiled more in public, didn’t give referees such an apparently hard time or only tackled opponents around the ankles he would probably be a national treasure.
But that is not Owen, or at least not the on-field Owen anyway. Off it new teammates are frequently taken aback. “I sat next to him on the bus every day and he was a real good laugh,” said Wales’s Louis Rees-Zammit after touring with the Lions in South Africa last year. “I didn’t really expect that.” The other day even Farrell conceded his on-field persona might not always do him many favours. “I’d say the challenge for me is the way I present myself at times when I’m playing the game.”
Either way there is little sign of a declining force. If anything, the best may be yet to come. Yes there have been games when things haven’t gone according to plan, the 2019 World Cup final among them. Watching him for Saracens this season, though, has been to see a player who shows nil sign of easing up. He could easily be the next Johnny Sexton who, at 37, continues to steer Leinster and Ireland expertly around. Farrell only turned 31 in September and will still fancy making the 2027 World Cup.
Which is where the singular career paths of father and son start to grow more complex. Andy Farrell’s stewardship of Ireland is going so well there is every chance of his team contending for all the world’s major trophies for the remainder of Farrell Jr’s career. What the Irish side might once have lacked in terms of consistent physicality and mental hardness they now possess in abundance. Where did that come from? They don’t appoint many softies as captain of Great Britain’s rugby league side and Farrell was handed that role aged 21.
For him to subsequently become World Coach of the Year in a different sport would arguably rank as even more remarkable. The other shortlisted candidates are France’s Fabien Galthié, the England women’s coach, Simon Middleton, and his Black Ferns opposite number, Wayne Smith, but Farrell’s achievement in guiding Ireland to a historic series win in New Zealand must surely give him a decent shot.
As for his son, maybe he was always destined to be a chip off the old block. “All I can remember is watching my dad play and how he was, not just what he did,” Farrell Jr once said. “You have to be a voice, you have to be able to speak up.” As England prepare to face the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday, which of the following is rugby’s more intimidating presence: the haka or the Farrell family? These days it is increasingly the latter.