Andy Farrell’s elevation to head coach of the British and Irish Lions is anything but a surprise.
The recently-crowned World Rugby coach of the year was odds-on favourite to land one of the sport’s most prestigious posts after establishing Ireland as global heavyweights.
His impressive impact in Dublin has attracted admirers far and wide and he will spearhead the 2025 tour of Australia with the full support of his predecessor.
“It is the opportunity now for someone else to be head coach and Andy Farrell would have my backing for the job,” Warren Gatland, who selected Farrell as one of his assistants for the Lions tours in 2013 and 2017, said in October.
“You cannot deny what Ireland have achieved as a nation over the last few years. There is no doubt that Andy has done a fantastic job.”
Farrell’s true emergence as the outstanding candidate to succeed Gatland came in 2022 when he masterminded Ireland’s stunning series success in New Zealand.
The historic achievement launched a 17-match winning streak which brought Guinness Six Nations Grand Slam glory, victory over each of rugby’s leading nations and a prolonged spell at the top of the world rankings.
Defeat to the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals in October 2023 finally halted the record-breaking run of victories.
Yet that disappointment did little to damage the rising stock of a born leader renowned for emotional intelligence, superb man-management skills, a shrewd rugby brain and an unflappable mentality.
“Everyone runs into camp and never wants to leave – it’s an incredible place to be,” recently-retired Ireland captain Johnny Sexton said of the environment fostered by Farrell.
“I’ve not really seen a manager tick all the boxes like he does.”
Born in Wigan in May 1975, Farrell represented his hometown club in rugby league with distinction.
He made his first-team debut in November 1991 at the age of 16 – two months after the birth of son Owen, the current England captain – and regularly lifted silverware, in addition to twice being named Man of Steel.
Farrell switched codes to play for Saracens in 2005 but the transition was severely hampered by foot surgery and back problems, including a prolapsed disc after a car crash.
Injuries limited him to just eight Test caps in rugby union and kept him sidelined for the latter stages of England’s run to the 2007 World Cup final, where they finished as runners-up to South Africa.
Farrell was later joined at Saracens by a teenage Owen and then remained with the Premiership club following retirement in 2009 to begin his coaching career before joining the England set-up under Stuart Lancaster ahead of the 2012 Six Nations.
Four years later, the 48-year-old headed across the Irish Sea seeking to rebuild his reputation after being dismissed by newly-appointed England coach Eddie Jones in the aftermath of a dismal home World Cup.
Farrell, who initially served as Ireland’s defence coach under Joe Schmidt before stepping into the leading role following the 2019 World Cup, has since given the RFU cause for regret.
Following a rocky transitional period amid the coronavirus pandemic, his vision of a slick system of short, swift interplay clicked into gear in devastating fashion and to widespread acclaim.
His well-earned reward has been two contract extensions from the IRFU – initially until 2025 and then 2027 – and now an opportunity to lead the Lions.
The Englishman is tasked with returning the multi-nation team to winning ways following a 2-1 defeat to the Springboks in 2021.
“He loves everything about the Lions and he epitomises what’s great about it,” said two-time tourist Tommy Bowe, who was coached by Farrell on the victorious trip to Australia in 2013.
“He’s very much about working extremely hard on the pitch but also being able to have a laugh off the pitch and I think that’s what the Lions is.”