Preview: England v Ireland
SIX NATIONS ROUND THREE: Ireland coach Andy Farrell once joked his son Owen never beat him at anything, even tiddlywinks.
Owen Farrell is the England captain and can have the last laugh by inflicting his father’s first defeat as Ireland head coach and end Irish hopes of both the Triple Crown and the Grand Slam in Sunday’s Six Nations clash at Twickenham.
It will be a different atmosphere to the last time the Farrells were in a stadium together for a Test.
Andy admits his “nerves went through the roof” watching Owen and his team-mates produce their best performance under Eddie Jones in beating two-time defending champions New Zealand in last year’s World Cup semifinal.
Farrell, 44, was an England fan for the day because Ireland – at the time he was their defence coach – had been soundly beaten by the All Blacks the week before.
“Now that was tough,” Farrell said earlier this month.
“I was back to being a parent again and that’s tougher than being a coach against your son.
“I actually did the whole fan-family thing that day on purpose, to get back to how it felt before all this ever happened.”
“All this” encapsulates quite a lot.
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At the 2015 World Cup, Farrell was defence coach and his son a key player as England fell at the pool stage.
Eddie Jones, who had coached Farrell senior at Saracens, came in to replace Stuart Lancaster with England and opted to let the father go, saying thinking the family dynamic would not work.
Yet father and son are used to setting aside family ties when it comes to sports.
“We’re very competitive, yeah,” Andy told World Rugby in a joint interview with Owen back in 2008 when they were both playing for Saracens.
“He [Owen] says he never lets me win but I always win anyway.
“He never wins anything. Even playing tiddlywinks tomorrow I would never let him win.”
‘Kicking and screaming’
For Owen’s uncle Sean O’Loughlin – a Wigan legend who was an unwitting Cupid when Colleen and Andy babysat him as a child – the England skipper has inherited his father’s best characteristics.
“Andrew had all of the traits Owen has got now as a player and he’s got them as a coach as well, so Owen has learnt from the very best,” O’Loughlin told Sky Sports last November.
“One similarity would be that determination and competitiveness.”
Owen showed this single-minded focus when he replaced Andy after the latter was injured during a Saracens game with Australian outfit Western Force in 2008.
“He wasn’t bothered about my injury,” said Andy with a smile.
“I couldn’t really think about anything else other than my job,” said Owen.
Owen was only ever going to play rugby, although due to his father’s stellar career in rugby league with Wigan it appeared it could be that code the son took up.
Then, in 2005, Andy moved south to Hertfordshire and switched codes by signing for Saracens.
“He was kicking and screaming when we came down here ,” Andy told the Daily Mail in 2017
Players to watch
For England: As Owen Farrell looks to inflict defeat on his father’s side, his accuracy off the tee will need to be at its best on Sunday. Jonny May loves Twickenham, and Twickenham loves Jonny May. The England flyer’s record at the ground is impressive, with 19 of his 29 international tries being scored on the hallowed turf. Another England back who enjoys the Twickenham aura is Jonathan Joseph. The outside centre loves nothing more than space and with his defensive qualities being relied upon recently, Joseph will love nothing more than some running rugby. Also, at 12.9 stars, he could be the bargain on the week.
For Ireland: Christiaan Stander has picked up back-to-back man-of-the-match awards and it’s not difficult to see why. Stander has made 101 metres and tallied up 27 tackles. Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour have been in top form as Ireland’s flying back three in the tournament. Tadhg Furlong’s confidence will be sky high after his try-scoring display last time out against Wales.
Head to head:
As with any Six Nations game there are intriguing contests all over the park, but there is a healthy dosage of additional spice when it is England versus Ireland. Perhaps one of the key match-ups is at flyhalf – George Ford (England) against Jonathan Sexton (Ireland). Among the forwards the contest between No.8s Tom Curry (England) and Christiaan Stander (Ireland) will also be significant to the outcome of the contest.
Predictions: This is a tough one to call, as so many factors are at play. Our vote goes to England, mainly because of the Twickenham factor, but they are unlikely to win by more than a converted try.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jonny May, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Jonathan Joseph, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Tom Curry, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Charlie Ewels, 21 Ben Earl, 22 Willi Heinz, 23 Henry Slade.
Ireland: 15 Jordan Larmour, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Caelan Doris, 21 John Cooney, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Keith Earls.
Date: Sunday, February 23
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 15.00 (15.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Light rain and a fresh breeze. High of 13°C and low of 8°C
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
* Additional reporting by @SixNationsRugby