Who can flourish under Warriors legend?
For the benefit of those rugby fans who like to keep tabs on Wigan’s own, no matter where they might end up, this is how we believe ex-Wigan half Andy Farrell will make his mark on the Ireland squad as head coach in 2020.
Back in November, the announcement that Warriors legend Andy Farrell will take on Ireland after the World Cup became a real conversation starter in the pubs of Wigan. While many Warriors fans could care less for Rugby League legends who defect to Union in any context, there is always some belief that the man in question could still, somehow, use his connections to benefit the hometown club for which he once plied his trade excellently.
A permanent fixture in the Warriors squad between 1991 and 2004, Farrell’s prowess obviously requires no introduction. He averaged 8.47 points per game throughout his time with the Warriors and made a near-effortless transition to Union in 2005 where, despite his advanced years, managed 2.83 points per game. Since Farrell took over as Ireland’s defensive coach in 2016, Ireland’s defence has developed into a solid unit, which has helped to make the 2018 Six Nations winners – in some cases – third-favourites to lift the 2019 Rugby World Cup trophy.
Naturally, there is much excitement in Ireland at the prospect of the ex-Wigan captain taking the hot seat. The 2020 Six Nations meeting between England and Ireland will certainly have a particularly interesting context, with Farrell needing to thwart his own son’s efforts to score against Ireland. The holders and ex-holders meet in Dublin for the opening fixture of the 2019 Six Nations tournament, and if Ireland are to honour their status as odds-on favourites in February’s opener with 10/11, Farrell’s influence on the defence from the touchline will almost certainly have a role to play.
Being a relatively young manager who – like any other head-coach-in-waiting – will surely be brimming with new ideas, Farrell’s promotion will be of particular benefit to young Irish international players that see the late 2010s and early 2020s as their ‘make or break’ period. Arguably the most prominent of these is Joe Carbery, who should see the presence of a fellow fly-half in the hot seat as a godsend.
The Munster-based prodigy may find it difficult to be a regular starter in the 2019 Six Nations tournament, but the 2020 edition could be the time he makes that position his own, for a new generation of unstoppable Irishmen. His sense of confidence belies his youth, and with an ability to undertake decisive actions under pressure, he is already being touted as a man in the same mould as Ronan O’Gara.
The other Irish player who could flourish under Farrell is Jordan Larmour. Winning the Six Nations in 2018 has given him more than a good foundation on which to build a successful international career, and one of his most disquieting abilities is his willingness to beat opponents in compact areas.
It is this attribute which unites defensive and attacking wingers alike, ensuring – again – that there is common ground between himself and his future head coach, which can only aid his development.
Unlike the great Springboks and All Blacks squads of past and present, two young talents in a European nation can seldom cement years of dominance. Yet, if values of loyalty and a passion for the game can be maintained within the best talents out there, then Six Nations success is near-guaranteed. Through his 13-year stint at hometown club Wigan, Farrell has already proven that he holds his values dearly, putting Irish youngsters in an optimal position to continue the good work.