Rugby excellence: it’s in the blood

Family has played a major role in Owen Farrell’s life and career. That’s not just his blood relations: team-mates and fans have also been a family to him, creating an environment for excellence. And with the fly-half’s own recent move into fatherhood, new challenges and responsibilities are adding fresh dimensions to the title ‘family man’.

Born into a rugby-mad family, England captain Owen Farrell has not been short of role models. His father, Andy, made 370 appearances for Wigan Warriors and was an international for both the Great Britain rugby league and the England rugby union teams. His uncle, Sean O’Loughlin, has played Rugby League for Wigan since 2002, and has racked up almost 450 club appearances – plus 36 international caps for Great Britain and England.

Together, the three of them have collected more than 44 club and international titles. It’s telling that in rugby union, Saracens hasn’t had a team without a Farrell for more than 14 years; Wigan Warriors has had a family member playing for them since 1991. (Even his maternal grandfather, Keiron O’Loughlin, played professional rugby league for 20 years; his own stint at Wigan ran from 1970 to 1979.)

And while Owen’s achievements demonstrate his personal commitment to excellence, he admits his family’s impact has been key for his career. “My dad’s influence has been constant, always has been, always will be,” he says.

Bonds Beyond Sport

Owen’s respect for, and connection with, his father is as true and strong as his place kicking. “We both love the game,” Owen explains. “But it’s not just the rugby stuff, it’s the father/son stuff as well – which a lot of people experience.”

Rugby excellence is part of the Farrells’ DNA and they both share a respect for competition and also the ability of a world-class athlete to adjust their mind-set for the greater goal – which in this case, delivering peak performance for his family of team-mates and fans.

The Next Generation

Farrell will now be passing on those values and mind-set to his own son, Tommy, who was born in March. So has the new arrival made him more aware of his own approach to life? And what impact has fatherhood had on his mind-set and perspective?

“Since my son came along I have spent a lot more time at home with the family and it’s worked out really well,” says Owen. “I’ve found being at home with him unbelievably engaging – it’s very different but in a brilliant way.”

One thing’s for sure: the Farrell way is to combine these strong family bonds with a fiercely competitive approach. Speaking to the Irish Times after his coaching appointment, Andy Farrell said of young Owen: “As a kid I never let him beat me at anything, but since he’s turned 19 he’s beaten me at everything so it’s about time I started getting my own back.”

It’s still far too early to make any predictions for Tommy’s sporting future, even with the obvious genetic inheritance. But he can only benefit from both father and grandfather’s approach to togetherness, whether that’s as a family or as a team.

Honesty Is The Best Policy

Like a family, successful teams are tight-knit and naturally share similar characteristics. They have to strive for the same collective goal and create an environment where individual excellence can be deployed towards that objective. “The challenge is keeping partnerships together and keeping a team pulling in the same direction,” says Owen. “I feel, you do this by not thinking you know it all, not getting too comfortable – especially if the team has had success in the past.”

That means, he adds, that honesty and transparency are key ingredients for a successful team: “I find that it gets you places, and it can get you there fast. Another important one, in my opinion, would be respect. Again, it comes back to being open-minded enough to listen to someone’s opinion and not think that you know it all as an individual, being able to take what you can from it. I would say that comes down to respecting each other.”

That’s echoed by former England coach Stuart Lancaster, who said of Owen’s excellent work ethic: “He has great integrity as a person and he’s a strong leader and competitor. He’s not afraid to listen to other people to get better and that’s what drives him.”

“The core is so strong that there’s room for people to come and go and be able to fit in to what we’re already doing.” ~ Owen Farrell, England Rugby Captain

Successful Succession

Growing and nurturing a team and preparing the next generation of players is a critical part of being a leader on and off the field. And, in playing terms, that also entails a passing of the baton between generations:

“At Saracens, the core of the group has been together for a long time now in rugby terms,” says Owen. “I’d say it would be coming up to 10 years. But that core is so strong that there’s room for people to come and go and be able to fit in to what we’re already doing.”

The will and determination of the collective more often than not outperforms the individual – whether that’s in a family or a team. And it’s clear from looking at the Farrell dynasty that while blood ties bind a family close, it’s mind-set, values and togetherness that create the environment for long-lasting success.

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