"Andy is Big Enough to Drop Owen" - Toby Flood Believes New Lions Coach Farrell Could Leave Son Out of Australia Tour - Ruck

“Andy is Big Enough to Drop Owen” – Toby Flood Believes New Lions Coach Farrell Could Leave Son Out of Australia Tour

It was announced yesterday, that Andy Farrell will be the head coach for the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia. The Ireland head coach was previously tipped by Warren Gatland for the role, and steps up to Gatland’s vacancy for the trip ‘down under’ in June 2025.

However, with Farrell’s appointment to the role, questions have already been asked as to whether he will take his son Owen on the tour. The fly half has stepped down from the role of England captain, and is currently in a break away from test match rugby to prioritise his mental health. Also, Farrell has now been linked with a Saracens exit, with Racing 92 the reported front-runners for his signature.

A dejected Owen Farrell of England applauds in the direction of the England supporters at full-time following the Guinness Six Nations match between England and France at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on Saturday 11th March 2023 | Photo: James Fearn/PPAUK.

A move out of the Premiership would hinder Farrell’s ambitions of representing England in the future, should he want to return to Steve Borthwick’s side. Currently, the RFU does not allow players to represent England, if they are playing their club rugby outside of the country. After the Rugby World Cup, the likes of Jack Willis, Henry Arundell, Joe Marchant and David Ribbans all agreed or extended their stays in France, and halted their chances for international selection.

Former England fly half Toby Flood believes that Andy Farrell could drop Owen from the 2025 British & Irish Lions, should the new head coach be presented with the decision. Flood discussed how Farrell would not be playing test match rugby for a considerable period of time ahead of the tour, which could well hinder his chances of selection for the trip to Australia. Speaking to LuckyBlock.com, Flood said:

“Andy is big enough to drop Owen. He is very aware that it would be a tough ask. However, Andy doesn’t really care about what other people think. He only cares about winning, performing and keeping things tight knit.”

“I think Owen’s potential move to France has to compromise his chances of being selected for the Lions. It is one thing to play club rugby, but another to do it internationally, not least in terms of the speed. 

“The club game in England is a 40% drop off from international level, and in France it is 45%.  There is a big, big difference. It is so quick and physical. Taking yourself out of that firing line makes it very difficult.”

Flood then discussed how picking Owen Farrell would present it’s own challenges, if the Saracens halfback remains out of the test match fold. The former Leicester and Newcastle Falcons man believes that Owen’s selection would have to be justified, if the likes of George Ford and Marcus Smith press on well for England in Farrell’s absence.

“Picking Owen would be a difficult decision for Andy, especially given how he would spin it to the wider world. It would be a very tough conversation for him to justify the fact that ‘my son hasn’t played international rugby for 18 months but I am still taking him.’

“The other choice would be easier. If he hasn’t played internationally, that is an obvious reason for not taking him especially if George Ford or Marcus Smith have kicked on.”

BAGSHOT, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 05: Andy Farrell, the England backs coach, faces the media during the England media session at Pennyhill Park on October 5, 2015 in Bagshot, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

During Flood’s playing days, he was competing against Owen for the England fly half jersey. From 2012 to 2014, Flood and Farrell were going tee-to-tee for the spot during the Stuart Lancaster era of England’s national team. During this time, Andy Farrell was amongst the England coaching staff as Lancaster’s Assistant Coach. Flood admitted there were rumours regarding selection when he was dropped to the bench, yet was impressed by the father and son’s professionalism when working together.

“It was always there so to speak, always noticeable, although Stuart Lancaster tried to dampen it down by saying all the selection decisions went through him. But in any business there is always talk and rumours, and people aren’t always sure.”

LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 21: (L-R) England Rugby Forwards Coach, Graham Rowntree, England Rugby Head Coach, Stuart Lancaster, and England Rugby Backs Coach, Andy Farrell, speak to the press during a press conference for the England Senior and Saxons Elite Player Squad Announcementsat Twickenham Stadium on January 21, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

“I was competing with Owen for the fly-half shirt and you were never 100% sure if that dynamic between father and son did not impact on selection. It was very hard for both of them because they both came into the England set up at the same time.

“It would have been uneasy, but they were both very good at managing that relationship and making it as easy as possible.”

With Owen Farrell stepping away from the England team, head coach Steve Borthwick will be appointing a new captain on January 17th, when he names his squad for the 2024 Six Nations. Andy Farrell has a considerably longer period of time before he bestows the armband for the 2025 Lions Tour, and Flood believes that the Ireland head coach could well look to his current crop of players from the Emerald Isle for the duty.

“I don’t know who Farrell will pick as captain, there is no stand out player at this point in time who has put his hand up. There is no obvious candidate like Sam Warburton previously and a lot will depend on the upcoming Six Nations and the Autumn series. The World Cup was not great for the Northern Hemisphere.

“We are in a transition phase after the World Cup. I think Andy will look to his own national team and pick an Irish player. Someone like James Ryan who has had great plaudits. If Ireland have a great Six Nations, which they should do because they’ll be suffering from the World Cup, then there is no reason why they can’t win a Grand Slam. They are an exceptional side.”

Flood certainly believes that Andy Farrell is the right man for the job. Having worked under his coaching in the England set-up, Flood recognises the talents that the 48-year-old will bring to the British & Irish Lions and backs the former Saracen to coach on multiple tours. Flood went on to highlight how Australia would be the ideal start for the new head coach, as the Wallabies are in the midst of an underwhelming run of form.

Australia’s 2023 Rugby World Cup campaign saw them eliminated in the pool stages, for the first time in their history. The Wallabies suffered a winless Rugby Championship campaign ahead of the tournament, and then endured defeats to Wales and Fiji whilst in France. All the while, their entire campaign was overshadowed by Eddie Jones’ uncertain future with Australia Rugby, with the two having since parted ways, and Jones returning to Japan as head coach.

British & Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand 2017British & Irish Lions Squad and Captain Announcement, Syon Park Hotel, London 19/4/2017Pictured at today’s announcement (L-R) Neil Jenkins (kicking coach), Graham Rowntree (scrum coach), Steve Borthwick (forwards coach), Warren Gatland (head coach), Sam Warburton (captain), John Spencer (manager), Andy Farrell (defence coach) and Rob Howley (backs coach)Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

“The British and Irish Lions really should win.” Flood added. “This is not a vintage time for Australian rugby. If you’re going to put your hand up to coach a series now then out of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, then you’d choose the Wallabies. The likelihood of the Lions winning is pretty high.”

“Andy had an instant impact as both a player and coach in the way that he operated and the culture he helped to create. That was obvious at Saracens. Several of their players have gone on to coach.

“When Stuart Lancaster took over he was looking for somebody who could be a focal point for the character of the team. That was Andy. Graham Rowntree was another, so too was Mike Catt. The three of them bonded incredibly well. As a coach he was always very demanding and expected high standards. At the same time he had this uncanny way of tapping into an individual’s psyche.”

Ireland team to play New Zealand

“I think he is the right choice.” Flood continued. There’s not much too much else out there! It’s too early for Steve Borthwick, and is he charismatic enough? Gregor Townsend will probably be the attack coach.   

“It was a question of do you stay still with Gatland again, or do you move on with an up and coming coach? If Farrell gets this right in Australia, which to all intents he should do, you’re looking at a guy who could do three tours.”

Flood closed out the discussion on the Lions’ new head coach, by re-calling an example of his impressive coaching approaches. In 2012, England had struggled to beat Scotland and Flood’s side had returned to the changing rooms expecting a harsh talking to. What followed suprised Flood, and is a memory that the former Falcons man fondly remembers from being under Farrell’s tutelage.

Newcastle Falcons player Toby Flood during the Gallagher Premiership rugby game between Newcastle Falcons and Bristol Bears at Kingston Park on April 17 – PHOTO: Steve Bond/PPAUK

“We were expecting a real kicking. Faz had been there two weeks. He stood up in the team room. He played a video and kept shouting, ‘Look at this, look at this.’ All the footage was of big hits from the England team, how quickly they were getting off the line.

“He wasn’t highlighting mistakes. All he showed us was the positives, he said you’re learning new systems and ‘don’t worry it will come’. That gave everyone a huge lift, shoulders and heads lifted and from then on. This guy has got our back. That buys you growing time as both a player and a coach, and some space to make mistakes as a coach and as a player. 

“His ability to tap into the psyche of individuals is really important, especially when you are a defence coach. No-one really likes defence and whacking people! You need a defence coach who you can buy into his mentality.

England Coach, Andy Farrell on the top table taking questions from the press – Photo mandatory by-line: Phil Mingo/Pinnacle – Tel: +44(0)1363 881025 – Mobile:0797 1270 681 – 22/09/2015 – SPORT – RUGBY UNION – Rugby World Cup 2015 – England Rugby Training – Penny Hill Park Hotel, Bagshot, Surrey, England

“I’m not surprised by Andy’s success. Underneath the bravado, he is actually a calm and reflective human being. He is quite a ‘soft person’. He is very compassionate and empathetic. That comes from leading teams. 

“You change psychologically when you’re in charge in terms of how you hold yourself and how you question people. When you have that level of responsibility for an organisation, you become aligned to how you can get the best out of them.”