Rugby World Cup final: Inspirational Owen Farrell has England focused

Owen Farrell and his England squad
Owen Farrell and his England squad

It was almost eight years ago that Owen Farrell was first called up by England.

Still only 20, but already a Premiership winner with Saracens and the son of a rugby league legend, Stuart Lancaster knew exactly what he had on his hands.

As Farrell remembers: “Stuart said to me when I first came in: ‘I need you to be yourself straight away. I need to hear your voice if you are going to be yourself.’

“That stuck with me and I wasn’t too shy, I wanted to get the best out of myself and those around me.”

That is a mantra that England’s captain has stuck to ever since.

Through 78 caps for his country, and four more for the Lions, England’s lynchpin has led in both word and deed.

Those leadership qualities have taken England to the verge of history this weekend.

And while the chirping chatter remains, there is a new-found calmness alongside it.

Listen to our Rugby World Cup Final podcast with interviews from former England players
Listen to our Rugby World Cup final podcast with interviews from former England players

Gone is the boyish brashness of years gone by, the scuffle with Schalk Brits on the 2013 Lions Tour marked him out as a potential target for opponents, and now there is an unruffled solidity to his leadership.

As teammate for club and country Jamie George says: “(Owen) has been a leader since I have known him at 14.

“Back then it was probably a lot more shouting because of frustration more than anything but now I think he has just developed a huge amount.

“As a leader I can’t speak highly enough of him. He is the sort of person you want to follow.

“He leads from the front but at the same time I think the big thing is that he is a person you can trust because you know first of all that he is probably the best at it in terms of his rugby ability but also the amount of tape that he watches.

“You know for a fact that the messages that he is giving you, he has been thinking over and over again.

“He is very good at delivering a theme and messages that build up nicely throughout the week.”

Just one look at the haka last weekend and Farrell’s symbolic flicking of the V made it clear. The confrontation remains, but the battle now rages within.

“With 'Faz' the biggest thing is the calmness he's brought into his game,” adds Billy Vunipola.

“You can probably hear him shouting on the ref mic all the time, but when there's a break in play he's a different guy. He's a very calming influence on everyone around him.”

Indeed, Farrell’s Friday players only meetings have become a key part of England’s match-week preparations.

In them, Farrell gives his lieutenants like Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje the floor, while encouraging other teammates’ voices to be heard.

And in the short time he has been sole skipper of this England side – he was co-captain with Dylan Hartley as recently as last year – they have become the stuff of legend.

“I just can’t wait for Friday,” admits George.

“That is Owen’s meeting. There are no coaches in the room. He just asks us how we are feeling and if anyone has anything to say.

“Often people will get something off their chest if they are thinking about the game and then he says his bit and without fail you could hear a pin drop.

“Everyone is hanging on every word he that he says. It is very inspirational without tearing the roof down because that is probably not what is needed but he has a very good feel of what the team needs and what messages he needs to deliver.”

These meetings can last anywhere from a few minutes to almost an hour. 

Eddie Jones has always sought to empower his players, and Farrell and George Ford are chief amongst that.

England head coach Eddie Jones
England head coach Eddie Jones

But this is not a meeting for the Xs and Os on the tactics chalkboard, this is about the team channelling their emotions for the greater good.

“It's not shouting and screaming – you are able to get your head down to sleep after it!” added George.

“No one is crying in there – oh, I don't know, I might do this week!

“He (Farrell) gets that balance quite nice and it sets the tone then for the build-up. Because Owen talks a lot about the build-up starts through the week but it also starts from the minute you wake up on the Saturday – the image you give off to the people around you, even in the way you walk to breakfast. 

“You are always constantly giving off a message to other people, about what your mindset is and how you are feeling."

It obviously helps Farrell's influence that he is the first name on the team sheet, whether at fly-half or inside centre.

The playmaker, the goal-kicker who has amassed nearly 900 points in international rugby already at the age of only 28, and now the team’s psychologist also.

“I think in Owen's mind its quite nice to hear from people who haven’t been speaking, who haven't got a huge leadership role in the team. He often draws on their feelings and experiences, and sees how they're feeling," adds George. 

“I have certainly been in those meetings and I felt like I have needed to say something.

“I don't know whether I will on Friday but there might be some people in the team who feel like they need to speak. And they often need that more for their own sake than the team's sake. It probably will be shorter."

Farrell’s importance to this team is best explained thus:

George will have both his parents in the crowd this weekend at Yokohama.

The Saracens hooker is now 29, with 45 Test caps and a Lions Tour to his name who also this week said no coach in his career has helped him quite like Steve Borthwick.

And yet, none of those things motivate him quite like a trademark Farrell glare:

“You see it in his eyes, it's a look – like, if he asks for more, we’re going to give him more, that's the way that he is."

Watch England home and away with England’s own travel company: www.englandrugbytravel.com

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