"He's a Champion" - Kevin Sinfield On Andy Farrell, Marcus Smith's Return & England's Data Debate - Ruck

“He’s a Champion” – Kevin Sinfield On Andy Farrell, Marcus Smith’s Return & England’s Data Debate

We are set for a reunion amidst the coaching staff this Saturday, when England host Ireland in Round Four of the Guinness Six Nations. In the middle of the fierce contest, Kevin Sinfield and Andy Farrell will come face to face, as the two coaches have a shared history on apposing Rugby League teams.

The two leading faces of their respective national sides, previously crossed paths when Sinfield played for Leeds Rhinos, and Farrell ran out for Wigan Warriors back in the Super League. An accomplished athlete in the league code of rugby, Sinfield admired the skills which Farrell brought to the Warriors and later the international stage as an undeniable leader. Speaking in a recent England media press event, Sinfield branded Andy Farrell ‘a champion’, yet does not wish his old friend the best for this weekend’s meeting at Twickenham.

“He’s a champion. I first came across him in the early part of my league career. Faz was fully established then, he was Great Britain captain at 18 or 19, he was just a standout player and part of that great Wigan team so I always looked up to him, played international rugby alongside him. He was a great captain, a brilliant leader.

“When he moved across (to rugby union), you knew he was going to be a coach, you knew he was going to be a success because he just wins but I think he does it in the right way. He understands people and I’m really happy for him. He’s a good guy who deserves everything he’s got because he works incredibly hard and makes the best of himself. I don’t necessarily wish him all the best on Saturday but he’s a good guy and I’m really pleased for him.

HULL, ENGLAND – MARCH 05: Kevin Sinfield of Leeds Rhinos in action during the First Utility Super League match between Hull FC and Leeds Rhinos at KC Stadium on March 5, 2015 in Hull, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

“When he was back with England and they spent a bit of time in Leeds it was the backend of my playing career. They used the Rhinos training ground back then so we crossed paths a little bit. I’ve obviously seen him when we’ve played Ireland and had a little natter with him and he’s done a really good job.”

Additional returning faces that England fans are excited to see come back to Twickenham, is the halfback duo of Marcus Smith and Alex Mitchell. Both men have been declared fit for the match against Ireland, with fly half Fin Smith now out on the side-lines with an injury. The expected system sees George Ford start with Micthell in the nine-10 axis, with Marcus Smith waiting on the bench for a second half impact. Speaking on the fly half’s return, Sinfield praised Smith’s vocality, even whilst he’s been ruled out of recent weeks.

Marcus Smith of England during the Summer Nations Series Rugby match between Wales and England at Principality Stadium on August 5, 2023 in Cardiff, Wales. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“I’m not sure leading meetings, but he’s (Smith) certainly been a voice within meetings for us as you’d expect your nines and 10s to do. So, no more or no less than normal, than what Marcus would be.

“He comes in and is himself all the time. So we missed him in them first few weeks, so to have him back available last couple of weeks with us has been really good.”

“I’d say a similar sort of presence. Obviously, dynamics change with Owen (Farrell) not being available. So you know, you expect, when a couple of your older, more experienced leaders drop off, for whatever reason, then you expect some of younger guys to step up. 

Marcus Smith of England during the Summer Nations Series Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 12 Aug 2023 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“Marcus has been very good anyway, but he’s… I’ve loved working with him, and he’s an incredible talent isn’t he. He can play the boy, so. The bounce he brought all throughout the world cup and our time last year together, he’s certainly brought the last two weeks, and that’s off the field as well, because he’s a good guy to be around.”

There has also been a good deal of discussion around how the England team are using match data, heading into this weekend’s fixture. Beginning with England legend Will Carling’s statement, about how England play in a restrictive ‘data straight-jacket’, Sinfield was proposed a question about his own use of all things numerical. The former Leeds Rhino expressed how he and head coach Steve Borthwick have a solid understanding of the percentage game, yet recognises that the game can not just be won by numbers on a page.

Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 9 February 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

“I think every club side and every international team use data or stats to some effect. You know whether that’s the actual metrics from the games or whether it’s GPS or a combination of the two.

“We’re no different and I think within our coaching team, I think it’s been really important for Steve to understand that we get every single bit catered for. So, whether that’s someone who’s got more of a focus on data, whether it’s someone who’s got more of a focus on feel, and what it looks like. I think we’ve got a decent amount of everything in there. 

“Clearly the data, some of the data is important for us. Clear, there’s a lot of things in the data as well, that just are irrelevant, and you have to get rid off. So it’s understanding what makes a difference for us and helps us win. And what helps us prepare the team the best, but also within that, not ignoring what we see, and not ignoring the field. 

“Now I mean, our stats can take you so far, but they won’t tell you how good a leader somebody is. They won’t tell you the influence somebody has in the field, they won’t tell you how much somebody talks on the field. So these are all things we look out for when we’re training. And I’d like to thank our coaching team, like I said, has a decent enough handle on most aspects. That’s what the best coaching teams have don’t they. They’re able to pull all different facets together and get to the right point.”

Kevin Sinfield, Skills Coach of England Rugby gives instructions to George Ford of England during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

Handling errors were certainly a stand out statistic for England, in their most recent Six Nations match. Borthwick’s side gave away what Sinfield believed to be an ‘anomaly’ or errors, and expects a slicker performance with ball in hand this weekend at ‘HQ’.

“We’ve had a real focus on catch and pass, stripped a lot of it down to the bare bones as you’d expect. When you’re in big games it’s those little bits that make a big difference. So I think it was an anomaly, we’ve worked particularly hard in trying to understand that.

“Some of it is difficult to understand. When you look at the stats, they don’t necessarily, when you’re trying to understand why someone’s dropped a ball, or someone’s thrown a pass without looking where the pass is going, there’s a bit more to it than the numbers. We’re trying to understand the people, what they are feeling and what they are seeing at that moment in time.

“So we’ve delved pretty deep into that, but then also understood that week in York last week was important to learn some lessons but also to refresh the group we’ve got and ensure that we can be as best prepared as we can going into this week.”