Ashton: Farrell can be brilliant for England team

Man who gave new red-rose coach his first cap says former league player has vision and communication skills to be huge success

The worst-case scenario for England's caretaker coaching team goes something like this: defeat by Scotland in the Calcutta Match at Murrayfield in eight weeks' time is followed by a life-or-death struggle with the Italians in Rome, failure to win any of the last three matches in the Six Nations, the ceremonial presentation of something uncomfortably reminiscent of a wooden spoon and sackings before bedtime.

There again, Andy Farrell might bring his vast rugby knowledge to bear on red-rose affairs and help the national side mount a decent defence of their title. In which case, there may be no sackings at all.

"I think the Rugby Football Union's decision to bring Andy on to this interim coaching panel is a really interesting move – one I didn't see coming, but one I believe could produce results," said Brian Ashton, the 2007 World Cup coach who awarded Farrell his first Test cap. "The way I see it, this depends on a couple of factors. Firstly, Andy must be allowed to make a proper contribution – given his head, if you like. Secondly, it's vital that he stays true to his instincts, his beliefs. He is blessed with an outstanding rugby mind. If he can't use it in the way he thinks best, he'll soon start wondering why he's there."

Ashton, a fellow son of Lancashire who has known Farrell for years – there is a good deal of mutual respect between the two men – admits that the union game did not see the best of the former Great Britain rugby league captain when he switched codes in 2005. "I think Andy would admit it too," he said. "However, it does not mean that his value to the England squad as a player was minimal. Quite the opposite. He quickly showed himself to be a brilliant communicator, someone who had both a very highly developed sense of awareness and the ability to get his message across even when a game was at its most intense. If he can communicate his ideas off the field in the way he communicated them on the field, he'll be a real asset.

"Andy has this innate understanding of dynamic team sports. He had it in league, he had it in union, and if he'd had a different skill set, I'm quite sure he would have been a Premier League footballer. It goes without saying that he possessed all the necessary skills as a rugby player – you don't achieve what he achieved in league, which was pretty much everything, without being able to play. But to my mind, his core strength was his decision-making. On the field, he did not lead by example as such. He led by seeing the way a game was developing, working out very quickly what had to be done and ensuring everyone around him understood what was needed. That should translate well to his new role with England."

Farrell is no one's idea of a rugby romantic, an "away with the fairies" type with only a tenuous grip on reality. "I'd say he's a fairly pragmatic sort, which fits in with his expertise as a decision-maker," Ashton said. "The art of it is to be aware of the full range of possibilities, make the calculation and do what's right. When he first started coaching at Saracens under Brendan Venter, the rugby played by the club was pretty limited – successful, but limited. Then, after a tweak to the law interpretation at the tackle area that freed things up a little, they suddenly switched to a more dynamic, challenging style. They were prepared to counter-attack from anywhere on the field, whatever the state of things on the scoreboard, and I remember thinking to myself at the time: 'Andy's fingerprints are all over this.'

"Saracens have actually gone back to playing a limited game this season and it may be that Andy is biting his tongue these days. But there's no denying that he's had an excellent start to his coaching career – Saracens have been to two successive Premiership finals and won the title last May – and I'm sure he has a lot to offer England. I'll be very interested to see how things develop during the Six Nations."

As things stand, Farrell will be away from Saracens for an eight-week period between the end of January and the final round of the Six Nations in mid-March. "I've just been loaned out for a couple of months," he said with customary self-effacement. But if the Twickenham grandees stick to plans to disband the interim team in favour of a new full-time panel ahead of next summer's three-Test tour of South Africa – a panel that may well feature such southern hemisphere luminaries as Nick Mallett and Wayne Smith – they will be keen to see at least one young English coach involved as part of an improved approach to succession planning.

Andy Farrell: The Facts And Figures

Early life: Farrell was born on 30 May 1975, making his rugby league debut for Wigan at 16. He became the youngest player to win the Challenge Cup in 1993, building a reputation that saw him fully capped by Great Britain later that year.

League legend: At Wigan he won the league and the World Club Challenge in Brisbane in 1994 before he was part of the England side that reached the World Cup final. After claiming the first of two Man of Steel titles, he became captain of Wigan and GB and went on to win five league titles and four Challenge Cups. Voted the best player in the world and awarded an OBE in 2004

Switching codes: Moved to rugby union after notching 3,135 points for Wigan. He joined Saracens in 2005 but didn't make his debut until a year later after injuries and a car crash.

England expects: Despite club and country rows over where he was best employed, Farrell made his international debut in the 2007 Six Nations. Scored his first try against Tonga in the 2007 World Cup but ended up with just eight caps.

Coaching: Retired in 2009 and took up a role as skills coach at Saracens before being promoted to first-team coach for the 2011 Premiership title season.

Jack Gaughan


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific