Andy Farrell: Former England coach to take up role as Ireland’s defence strategist after Six Nations

Move set to frustrate those who hoped he might take on a head coach’s role at a Premiership club

Twickenham’s top brass may think they have seen the last of Andy Farrell after presenting the red-rose assistant coach with his cards following last year’s World Cup misfire, but the England team will find him far more difficult to shake off.  

Farrell has been unveiled as Ireland’s new defence strategist and while he will not be involved in the Six Nations Championship, he will have plenty of opportunity to inflict pain on his old colleagues before the next global gathering in Japan in 2019.

One of the professional era’s most significant cross-code figures – a master rugby league practitioner, he crossed the great divide in 2005 and won eight international caps as a union player before establishing himself as a Test-class coach – Farrell is the first of Stuart Lancaster’s dismantled back-room team to secure alternative employment. Lancaster, the forwards specialist Graham Rowntree and the attacking skills expert Mike Catt have yet to find new positions. 

Farrell will replace Les Kiss, who oversaw Ireland’s defensive game at the World Cup and is now top dog at Ulster, in time for the Six Nations champions’ summer tour of South Africa. “The quality of his delivery and the breadth of his experience, as well as the positive impact he had when coaching a number of our senior players during the Lions tour in 2013, will add real value for us,” said Joe Schmidt, the New Zealander who runs the show in Dublin. 

The fact that Farrell has agreed a long-term contract outside of England will frustrate those who hoped he might get his hands seriously dirty by taking on a head coach’s role at a Premiership club. Everyone in rugby already knows that the 40-year-old Lancastrian can build a defensive system. By taking on full responsibility for squad construction, selection and results, though, he could have revealed himself as a Test  No 1 in waiting. 

Still, he seemed happy enough with his new role. “To have this opportunity to work with a very talented management and playing group really excites me,” said Farrell. “With a wealth of top-class, experienced senior players and a fantastic crop of youngsters pushing hard, the future is very positive for Irish rugby. I can’t wait to get started.”

Eddie Jones, the new England head coach who decided there was no place for Farrell and company on the Twickenham roster, always intended to play a hands-on role in the backs department, but he has never been against the idea of a young English coach riding shotgun. That man will not be Alex King of Northampton. Not yet, at any rate. King was widely linked to the role when it emerged that he would be meeting Jones for a chinwag just before Christmas. The conversation duly took place, but as the former Wasps and England outside-half pointed out, there was nothing more to it.

“Everyone assumed something that was never going to happen,” King said. “Eddie has gone around all the clubs and spoken to a lot of coaches. He’s made a decision: he’s going to run the England attack and that’s it. I move on to our game with Leicester on Saturday.”

On the pre-Six Nations injury front, Ireland will definitely be without two front-line Ulster players in the Lions Test wing Tommy Bowe, who has knee ligament problems, and the outstanding lock Iain Henderson, whose hamstring issues will incapacitate him for the rest of the season.

England, meanwhile, are awaiting updates on the Gloucester wing Jonny May and the uncapped Exeter lock Mitch Lees, neither of whom are expected to be fit for the start of the tournament.

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