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Why England skipper Owen Farrell is such an inspiration, explains team-mate Jamie George

 

Striding on: Owen Farrell has become a real leader for England
Striding on: Owen Farrell has become a real leader for England
Owen Farrell with Sarries boss Mark McCall of Bangor
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

The last time a back captained his side to World Cup glory, Owen Farrell was but a few months old.

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As Nick Farr-Jones led Australia to victory over what some 28 years later would be his England, Farrell could not yet walk or talk. Ever since, those first to get their hands on the Webb Ellis have been very much of a type. Francois Pienaar, John Eales, Martin Johnson, John Smit and Richie McCaw. All inspirational leaders, archetypal captains and, of course, huge men.

Farrell, who will have a 'C' beside his name when Eddie Jones today reveals his team to face South Africa in the World Cup final, is a different sort, the once temperamental Saracens man now seen as a calming influence on a young squad one step away from a historic feat.

England's skipper, playmaker and goal-kicker, it is remarkable just how much rests upon his shoulders. His Saracens and England team-mate Jamie George, however, believes that he is a natural leader, one capable of inspiring those around him as well as leading by example.

"He has been a leader since I have known him at 14," said the hooker.

"Back then it was probably a lot more shouting because of frustration more than anything but now I think he has just developed a huge amount. As a leader I can't speak highly enough of him.

"He is the sort of person you want to follow. He leads from the front but at the same time I think the big thing is that he is a person you can trust because you know first of all that he is probably the best at it in terms of his rugby ability but also the amount of tape that he watches.

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"You know for a fact that the messages that he is giving you, he has been thinking over and over again. He is very good at delivering a theme and messages that build up nicely throughout the week."

It is at the end of that week that Farrell, whose father Andy has taken over as Ireland head coach, addresses the team as a group, something George says he looks forward to on the eve of a Test.

"I just can't wait for Friday," he said. "That is his meeting, Friday night we have a meeting and we like to call it a captain meeting, a team meeting.

"There are no coaches in the room. He just asks us how we are feeling and if anyone has anything to say.

"Often people will get something off their chest if they are thinking about the game and then he says his bit and without fail you could hear a pin drop. Everyone is hanging on every word that he says.

"It is very inspirational without tearing the roof down because that is probably not what is needed but he has a very good feel of what the team needs and what messages he needs to deliver."

To hear Farrell spoken of in such terms would have perhaps been somewhat surprising at the very beginning of his career when he could appear visibly frustrated when things weren't going as he wanted.

"He has got a lot calmer, I'd say," added George. "I don't think he's ever been shouty. On the field he is still vocal but he talks a lot about being in control of your emotions.

"That is something he has learnt a lot through his younger years but he is calm, and delivers messages.

"There are times when we haven't been quite on it in the warm-up, but it is never a tough message, it's never a shouty message.

"You see it in his eyes, it's a look - like, if he asks for more, we're going to give him more, that's the way that he is."

Calm is a word also used by Billy Vunipola, another long-time team-mate at both club and international level.

"With Faz, the biggest thing is the calmness he's brought into his game. You can probably hear him shouting on the ref mic all the time, but when there's a break in play he's a different guy. He's a very calming influence on everyone around him," he said.

Farrell and George figure to be joined in Saturday's team by Maro Itoje and the Vunipola brothers, while George Kruis and Ben Spencer are likely replacements.

Six of the 23 have been part of the hugely successful Saracens side coached by Bangor man Mark McCall, while Elliot Daly will join them after the World Cup.

While nothing matches the expectation and pressure of a World Cup final, it is a group that has become accustomed to playing in hugely important games in the sharp end of competitions.

McCall said last week: "For so many of our players, who we've seen grow and develop as 15 and 16-year-olds, to take part in these games is wonderful.

"To see them lead and set examples the way they did makes me amazingly proud of them.

"The fact they have gained the experience of playing in so many big, big games, play-off games, semis and finals both domestically and in Europe, is helping so much.

"Now I can't see anything but an England win in the final."

Having done so much for such a sizeable number of Eddie Jones' squad, then he can be even prouder still.

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