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Farrell fulfils Lions destiny with head coach role

One of the worst kept secrets in rugby union was confirmed on Thursday when Andy Farrell was named head coach of the 2025 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.

It is a measure of the impact the 48-year-old former dual code international has had during his off-field career that Farrell has long been regarded as the leading candidate for the job, with Lions predecessor Warren Gatland championing him as his successor.

Farrell came to rugby union as a player in 2005 after a brilliant career in rugby league, where he made his Great Britain debut aged just 18 and captained Wigan, one of the English 13-a-side code’s leading clubs at 21.

His first season at Saracens was blighted by injury but Farrell went on to win eight caps in his new code and was a member of the England squad that reached the final of the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

But Farrell’s greatest impact in union has arguably been as a coach.

He retired from playing in 2009 and was soon working as a coach with Saracens before moving on to the England A side under then head coach Stuart Lancaster.

A return to Saracens saw him help the London club win the 2010/11 Premiership title.

Such was his impact that Gatland named him as one of his assistants for the 2013 Lions tour of Australia, with Farrell making his mark upon the combined side, featuring leading players from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, ahead of the third and deciding Test.

With the series all square at 1-1, after the Lions’ narrow defeat in the second Test, Farrell gave an impassioned speech emphasising the importance of defence.

“On D (defence), we cannot allow our emotional energy to dip whatsoever,” he said.

“You know why? Because there is no tomorrow. There is no tomorrow. We are taking them boys to the hurt arena this weekend.

“Because our mentality is going to be a different mentality to what the British Lions teams have had over the last 16 years. Right, a different mentality.

“Because the last 16 years, it’s been about failure. You shock yourself by taking yourself to another level. Because that’s what being a Lion is about. It isn’t about anything other than that. It isn’t about taking part, it isn’t about being here, it’s about winning.”

The Lions won 41-16.

Irish heights

Farrell then joined an England set-up now headed by Lancaster only to be let go by incoming boss Eddie Jones following the team’s first-round exit on home soil at the 2015 World Cup.

Farrell’s stock remained high, however, and he put his England experience to good use as defence chief under Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, more than once coming up against his son Owen, who was wearing the rose of England and may yet emerge as a key Lion in Australia.

Together, Schmidt and Farrell steered Ireland to three Six Nations Championships, including one Grand Slam, and recorded a first win over New Zealand. 

But Ireland reached even greater heighs under Farrell, who succeeded the New Zealander in 2019, as he encouraged the squad to break out of the rigid game-plan of his predecessor.

During the 2021 end-of-year Tests, veteran Ireland back-row Peter O’Mahony said: “It’s probably the most enjoyable month of my career so far, which has been a while now.”

And in 2022, Farrell guided Ireland, who lost the opening Test, to a first series win in New Zealand, having identified the talents of Jamison Gibson-Park and Mack Hansen.

Ireland went into the 2023 World Cup as the number one ranked team in the world although Farrell was unable to guide them past the quarter-finals when they lost narrowly to New Zealand.

Before the 2022 tour, however, Farrell encouraged his players to relish the challenge ahead and the Lions hope similar qualities of inspiration and selection will serve them well in Australia.

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