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Ward: 'Farrell is the greatest coach we've ever had'

SPOTLIGHT: Andy Farrell has raised Irish rugby’s profile in the same way fellow Englishman Jack Charlton did for Irish soccer.

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Farrell did it based on a concoction of grittiness, humility and panache, according to former Ireland flyhalf Tony Ward.

That first quality carried the Irish to a 17-13 victory over Scotland on Saturday to retain the Six Nations title and emulate Farrell’s predecessor Joe Schmidt’s side of 2014/15.

It comes on the back of a Triple Crown in 2022, the Grand Slam in 2023 and the title in this edition.

Farrell now bids a temporary farewell to the Six Nations.

He is the British and Irish Lions head coach for the 2025 tour of Australia.

Ward was among those who doubted Farrell’s suitability as coach after a series of disappointing performances early into his tenure – after taking over following the 2019 World Cup.

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He gleefully concedes he was wrong and sees 48-year-old Farrell as being as much a guiding light for rugby in Ireland as Charlton was for the Irish football team.

The 1966 World Cup-winning centre earned the nickname ‘Saint Jack’ as he guided the Irish to the 1990 World Cup quarterfinals I soccer, losing to hosts Italy, and then guided them to the last 16 in 1994.

“People go on about Jack Charlton and what he did for Irish football,” Ward, who won 19 caps for Ireland, said.

“They were not great to watch but he delivered results and raised interest in the game.

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“Farrell has been Charlton but with style and panache and the greatest rugby coach we have had.”

Ward, though, says what is wonderful about Farrell is his “humility in victory and defeat”.

“There is an air of decency about him that feeds through and every player buys into the system.”

‘Everyone is trustworthy’

Ward says it is no coincidence under the more relaxed Farrell there is a freedom to Ireland’s play and less fear of the repercussions of making mistakes than under the disciplinarian Schmidt.

“Andy takes a different approach to previous management that I’ve worked under, which I think is the right way to do it,” explained Ireland’s then-captain Johnny Sexton as to what had changed under Farrell after the Irish won the 2022 Triple Crown.

Indeed Farrell has engendered such a sense of trust among the players – he likes their families to spend matchday mornings with them – ebullient wing Mack Hansen has a tattoo of the former British rugby league legend’s face on his leg.

It is hard to imagine a similar gesture by players playing under fellow head coaches Warren Gatland, Fabien Galthie or Schmidt.

“Andy’s done great stuff for this team and for Irish rugby, on and off the pitch,” Hansen said last year.

Farrell said he was just 21 when he was attracted by the idea of coaching. “I was always a team player. I was always a captain. It was always about how teams gelled together.”

The Irish have been the beneficiaries of his desire to coach but it would not have worked had the father of four – becoming father for the first time aged 16 to England rugby great Owen – not identified with Ireland.

“Everyone from the north-west of England is from Ireland anyway,” Farrell told The Irish Times in 2016, the year he hooked up with the Ireland team as defence coach.

“I’ve got (Dublin) ancestry that goes back three or four generations (one of his brothers Phil played a rugby league Test for Ireland), and so has my wife (Colleen).

“It’s a big city is Dublin, but it still seems as if everyone knows each other, gets along really well and is very gracious and friendly.

“It reminds me of home really. I suppose when you’re a northern lad these things are important to you.”

It is however another Irish quality Farrell, who is under contract until 2027, identifies with that reflects why they are the perfect fit.

“We are what we are; you don’t need to beat about the bush,” he told The Irish Times.

“I think everyone is trustworthy.

“You don’t make the bullshit up. You just get on with the reality and that’s the northern way of life really.”

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