The day I knew Andy Farrell was a special coach

Farrell’s journey to this point has been an eclectic one. I rated him highly enough as a defense coach to bring him to Australia with the Lions in 2013, even though it meant having one of the toughest rugby conversations I have had in telling Shaun Edwards that I would be leaving him behind. From a selfish point of view, I wanted to see what Faz would bring to the table and see how he could improve me as a coach as well.

I got a glimpse of Faz’s innovation during an early defensive meeting when Paul ‘Bobby’ Stridgeon, our strength and conditioning coach, interrupted the meeting when his phone went off. Faz gave him both barrels and demanded that Bobby repeat back to him the defensive structure and strategy he had outlined.

We all sat back in our seats in embarrassment for Bobby but were stunned when he repeated word for word what Faz had said. It was only later that I discovered the whole thing had been set up as a ploy for Faz to get his message across to the players. If the fitness guy can remember our defence, so could they.

My only criticism of him in 2013 was that at times he took too long to deliver his instructions, which can dilute the message to the players but four years later in New Zealand he had improved enormously.

I was impressed by the way that he dealt with his experience with England in the 2015 World Cup and learned from it. He was much more concise in delivering information. Less is often more, particularly on a Lions tour when it is important not to overload the players.

That evolution continued under Joe Schmidt with Ireland and in the last year he has begun to step out of Joe’s shadow and put his own stamp on things. The thing that I admire about him is that he has strong ideas and thoughts, but he is very loyal as well.

He also has a great feel for an environment and the psyche within a team. That can be as important as the coaching side as success depends on the dynamics within a group. You can see that in the tightness of the Ireland coaching team.

I see a lot of similarities with Shaun Edwards and I think that comes from the fact that both of them were in a professional sports environment from a very early age in rugby league.

He has a good feel for when players need an arm around them or alternatively when they need some harsh words to give them a kick up the backside.

He has earned that right. But we are all aware now that the way the modern game is you have to be careful with your language and the way you criticize players because times have changed in that respect.

Strategically, he has got it right too with his decision to take a large squad to New Zealand and play two midweek games against the New Zealand Maori, a move to ensure that Ireland do not fall into their previous habit of peaking too soon before World Cups .

There is no doubt in my mind he would do a good job as a successor to Eddie Jones as England head coach after next year’s World Cup, but then he might decide to stay on with Ireland and achieve something really special with them.

Pressure is on the All Blacks this weekend

In the short term, Farrell will know that his side will face a fierce response from the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday. Not only is the series on the line, but there is also tremendous pressure on his counterpart Ian Foster, and many of the players who will be desperate to play in the World Cup next year.

Foster has come in for a lot of criticism following the defeat on Saturday, the sixth of 23 Tests in charge. The All Blacks have also dropped to fourth in the world rankings, and when the public opinion turns, it usually happens very quickly as it did to previous head coaches John Hart and John Mitchell following respective semi-final defeats in the 1999 and 2003 World Cups .

I think there has been an impact on New Zealand rugby now that the South African teams are playing their rugby in Europe. New Zealand sides have definitely missed the combative nature of rugby against the South Africans.

But New Zealand rugby traditionally has been brilliant at adapting really quickly and the All Blacks are renowned for their reaction in the face of adversity. Ireland know what is coming.

A series win would ensure Farrell’s men go into the World Cup next year as serious contenders. But it will be even more critical for the All Blacks. Another defeat and the clamor for change may be hard to ignore.


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