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Sunday 20 May 2018

Old friends from the north cut of same cloth

Two Englishmen abroad could have decisive say at The Aviva

Defence coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile
Defence coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile

Rob Kearney knows how to handle the media just as well as one of Dan Biggar's bombs dropping from the sky.

The Ireland full-back has had the experience of working for Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards and Ireland's Andy Farrell.

"Shaun is very much a 13-men in the front line (defence), maybe two in the back field max, a very, very hard line speed going forward," said Kearney.

"Andy and his defensive system has a little bit more thought process behind it and a lot more onus on the back three to work hard in his system.

"I have played in both and I am certainly more comfortable in Andy's," he smiled that knowing smile.

Shaun Edwards. Photo: Sportsfile
Shaun Edwards. Photo: Sportsfile

The superficial conclusion is that Farrell took what Edwards had and added one or two layers to systems that are not a million miles apart.

Back in the day, it was Wigan great Edwards, in his mid-20s, who took Wigan would-be-great Farrell, a 16 year-old, into his confidence.

"Shaun used to put me in his car and take me to see his agent," Farrell said back in 2013.

"He used to say: 'I'll look after you and show you my agent if you promise me you'll be my captain when I'm a coach.'

Relationship

"He would have been 24 or 25 at that time and already knew he wanted to coach.

"He saw me as a young kid whom he wanted a relationship with.

"I suppose that's how it is when you're from a small town."

The boy became a man and learned from Edwards, the King of the North.

Farrell's status as a player and universal popularity among players is at the heart of getting them to play for him, no matter where he has coached, Saracens (2009-2012), England (2011-2015) or Ireland from 2016.

More than that, unlike say Warren Gatland and Eddie Jones, Farrell makes it all about the men who have to carry out his instructions, staying in the background for the most part.

For, he knows his pubic talk is cheap compared to the line his players have to walk.

The legendary Rugby League player has become the quintessential players' coach.

It has been that way for some time, for Farrell.

"I don't see it as me and Shaun, it's the players who are head-to-head," he said, just before his England and Edwards' Wales went at it in 2013.

"Ultimately, at the top level you want to win stuff and Shaun's won a lot.

"I look at his coaching and playing career and his record is second to none.

"You can see why that is, if you know him."

Farrell knows Edwards well enough to know Gatland's decision to take Farrell to Australia (2013) and New Zealand (2017) with the British & Irish Lions would have been a thorn in the side of his mentor.

Edwards has had to deal with his disappointments just as Farrell has had to too.

The sour taste left in Farrell's mouth from how he was demonised by the English media in the aftermath of the 2015 Rugby World Cup must have faded by now.

And still. Deep down, he may have forgiven, but not forgotten.

Through all their years together and apart, Edwards and Farrell remain true to their core beliefs as out-and-out winners.

The respect is still there.

"Andy Farrell was an outstanding player, one of the best I ever played, and he has turned himself into an out-standing coach and has done very well with the British Lions," Edwards said this week.

"I have got huge respect for Andy and I would like to think he has got the same for me.

"We are friends off the field. We know each other's families, but come Saturday, we are obviously opponents."

The competitive spirit that drives Edwards extends beyond the white lines.

"But, I stick my record up against anybody in world rugby.

"The only person who has won more trophies than me is (former All Blacks coach) Wayne Smith, and he is an absolute legend of coaching."

It was then Edwards made the unexpected leap to let the world outside Wales know he could be ready for a new challenge.

"I've won 13 major trophies - 10 as an assistant coach and three as a head coach," he said.

"I really do enjoy being involved in international rugby.

"It's where I want to be, really, so whether that is as an assistant coach or a head coach, it doesn't really bother me.

"If I get an offer as a head coach in rugby league or rugby union, I will listen to it."

All the while, the Irish Rugby Football Union has not been sitting on the likelihood Joe Schmidt will depart Ireland for New Zealand in 2019.

There is a strong suspicion Farrell is the frontrunner to succeed Schmidt.

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