CHRIS FOY: England seem ready to stop being so uptight after Owen Farrell and Steve Borthwick were open and engaging at Six Nations launch – with captain revealing one of his son’s wears an Ireland shirt with grandad Andy their coach!
- England have spoken about the need to lighten up, relax and play with freedom
- Parenthood has allowed Farrell to mellow slightly and gain valuable perspective
- Borthwick has spoken with passion and honesty since taking the England job
England seem ready to stop being so uptight. That was the logical conclusion when Owen Farrell started joking about being a pushy parent — and one of his sons wearing an Ireland shirt.
This was new territory. Farrell was at the Six Nations official launch with Steve Borthwick and the pair of them were open and engaging, even after several hours in front of cameras.
The captain and head coach of the national team are both renowned as relentlessly intense characters, but here they were casting aside stern-faced masks to reveal a hidden human side.
Parenthood has allowed Owen Farrell to mellow slightly and gain valuable perspective
During their ill-fated autumn campaign which preceded Eddie Jones’s abrupt dismissal, England kept talking about the need to lighten up, relax and play with freedom — without quite managing to do so for any prolonged period.
Well, the early indications are that they may achieve this target under Borthwick’s new regime by embracing an effective work-life balance.
Farrell has always been notoriously cagey and guarded in public, wary of giving any insight into his true nature or his life away from rugby. Probing questions have tended to be met by exasperated resistance. But there has been a gradual shift of late and now, for the first time, he has spoken openly about his family.
Hearing Farrell offer a light-hearted glimpse into his off-field world suggested that parenthood has allowed him to mellow — just slightly — and gain valuable perspective.
England players have spoken about the need to lighten up, relax and play with freedom
Asked how he relaxes away from training and matches, the England skipper said: ‘I’ve got a young family so that helps. We have two little boys (Tommy, three, and Freddie, one). It’s hard to be anywhere else when you are in their company. That’s a brilliant thing for me.’
When Farrell returns to his home in Hertfordshire during the fleeting breaks from the England camp in the weeks ahead, he will be able to switch off from the maelstrom of a Six Nations campaign.
‘When you get into that dinner time, bath time, bed time routine from about 5pm, you are in for it then — there’s no getting out of that,’ he joked.
‘I’ve got two little lads who love running around, going to the park, being outside. I don’t know if I’m forcing it on him, but I’m trying to get my eldest to the driving range a little bit. He seems to like it, but I don’t know if that’s me just telling myself that!’
Steve Borthwick has spoken with passion and honesty since taking the England job
Farrell talked about how spending time with his family was a ‘silver lining’ last year, when an ankle injury ruled him out of the Six Nations.
He also admitted that long spells away from home can be hard — and while such a sentiment is a familiar one from players with children, it is not one the 31-year-old Lion and Test centurion has really expressed before.
When he was unveiled as England head coach, Borthwick revealed that his sons — Hunter and Chase — have been known to wear Australia rugby shirts at home. Farrell has to deal with more profound family allegiance issues, as his father, Andy, is in charge of Ireland.
Farrell’s dad Andy is the Ireland head coach
He said: ‘My eldest has an Ireland shirt, I asked him why he has got one and he said, “It’s grandad’s team”. So I said, “You can wear a suit like grandad does, then, not the kit!”. My dad got them a Man City top which I’m not happy about as well.
‘They are obsessed with Batman and Spiderman at the minute and were dressed up as them yesterday. Someone sent us a picture and said they looked like Del Boy and Rodney when they were dressed as Batman and Robin!’
So, does Farrell feel that fatherhood has helped him become a better player? ‘I think so,’ he added. ‘I think it’s helped me not dwell on things too much — good and bad. I guess with young kids, you get on with what’s in front of you. That’s the way I want to be. They definitely help with that.’
Borthwick has always been guarded in public too, but since succeeding Jones he has spoken with passion and honesty.
He was at it again during the launch event, talking about how he unwinds by playing with his sons, exercising on a Watt bike or reading books (currently Do Hard Things by Steve Magness).
Borthwick also spoke about how he wants his players to socialise together and have meaningful down-time, to be refreshed and ready to reach new heights of performance.
It is still early days, but as well as creating a positive mood in their camp, they are taking steps to reveal themselves as normal, decent people who the public can relate to — in much the same way as Gareth Southgate’s England football team.
They still have to win matches, but they are altering perceptions for the better.
The last word
It is difficult to keep up with all the controversy and turmoil.
Just in the last week, the French federation president and Welsh Rugby Union chief executive both resigned following scandals, the RFU hierarchy faced a no-confidence vote and a grassroots backlash, and an Italian player was banned for appalling racism.
Oh, and a former Australia coach accused the new one of being a ‘psychopath’.
All that came after the collapse of two English clubs earlier in the season, fears that others may be in trouble too and savage criticism by a government committee, which claimed the domestic game’s finances are ‘unsustainable’. What an almighty mess.
But the rugby itself remains enthralling.
Look at the Premiership with Sale, Northampton and Saracens winning tense thrillers by tiny margins over the weekend.
The scrap to reach the play-offs promises to be fascinating. And before that comes to a head, the Six Nations will captivate the public with vast audiences watching the resumption of age-old rivalries. It’s not all bad.
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