There cannot be many tougher jobs in world rugby than replacing Joe Schmidt.
But if there is anyone with the character built for the task, then surely that man is Andy Farrell.
Still only 43, Farrell has never been one to shirk responsibility – indeed, the Wigan man made his rugby league debut at the age of only 16 and was captaining his country by the age of 21.
So, when this week Schmidt announced his trophy-laden historic run as Ireland head coach would come to an end after next year’s Rugby World Cup, Farrell was the man chosen to succeed him. GREAT OF THE GAME First and foremost, Farrell’s success as a coach comes from the respect he demands from his players. His is a playing career – across both codes of the game – that most men can only dream of.
With Wigan, Farrell won six Super League titles and four Challenge Cups – including completing the double three times – and played over 350 games for his hometown club in their golden era.
As an international, he became Great Britain’s youngest-ever captain on their tour of New Zealand in 1996 and in 2004 won the Golden Boot and was named the best player in the world.
2005 saw a switch to union and yet more international honours, Farrell winning eight caps for England including three in the 2007 Six Nations.
But injuries and a failure to nail down a proper position in union, either in the forwards or the backs, curtailed his playing career in union. TRANSITION TO COACHING However, Farrell has always been a leader of men and someone who dreamt of being a head coach from an early age.
And his transition to coaching was an immediate success – first at Saracens and then with England when Stuart Lancaster came calling.
There, he became England’s defence coach and masterminded their historic win over the All Blacks in 2012, the first of his four wins and counting over the world champions.
The first – and so far only misstep of his career – came at the Rugby World Cup on home soil however, as England exited their own tournament in the Pool stages. IRELAND’S CALL That untimely exit cost both Lancaster and Farrell their jobs as Eddie Jones came in and looked to make a fresh start at Twickenham.
But England’s loss was undoubtedly Ireland’s gain as Schmidt moved swiftly to snap up Farrell.
Some of the Ireland players had already had a taste of Farrell’s defensive brilliance as part of the historic 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour success in Australia – a first Lions series win since 1997.
And with Farrell now in charge of defence, Ireland hit new levels of brilliance.
They downed the All Blacks in Chicago in November 2016, ended England’s 18-game winning run under Jones in March 2017, sealed a Grand Slam in 2018, a series win in Australia, and then defeated New Zealand in Dublin all over again.
In the middle of all that, Farrell also found time to mastermind the Lions defence again in New Zealand as they secured a series draw with the All Blacks last summer. TOP JOB Suffice to say, Farrell’s CV is to die for.
But the change now from assistant to head coach will be an intriguing one.
However, Schmidt is under no illusions that Ireland have picked the right man.
“The coaches have been fantastic to work with and Andy has made a big impact since coming into the group,” the Kiwi said.
“His ability to lead and his understanding of the game will ensure that the group will continue to move forward.”
Replacing Schmidt is an impossible job but Farrell’s in-your-face style of leadership – his Lions speech about taking the Wallabies to the ‘hurt arena’ is the stuff of legend – belies a tactical precision that should not be underestimated.
Just ask Ireland’s skipper Rory Best: “Whenever he asks you to do something, he has so much passion about it.
“Anyone who loves rugby, union or league, saw what he did in those Wigan days. He was their go-to man and you can see it in our defence. As a head coach, when he talks about any aspect of the game, he will make you want to buy into it.
“Andy is very smart, he was as a rugby player and he is as a coach. I have always said that Joe’s biggest legacy, once the dust has settled on the trophies, will be the coaches that he leaves behind. That will be his lasting legacy.” IRELAND THROUGH AND THROUGH Although born and raised in Wigan and representing England, Farrell’s Irish roots are without question.
His family ties to the Emerald Isle go back through the generations – as do his wife’s – and they have made Dublin their home since 2016.
And the man himself cannot wait to get started on the next step on the coaching ladder to immortality – although there is quite an important year to come before that…
“It is a privilege to be considered for such a prestigious role,” Farrell said.
“I have learnt a lot from Joe over the past few seasons and I will continue to learn from him over the next year as the coaching group and players focus on competing in two huge tournaments in 2019.”