By Mitch Phillips
BAGSHOT, England (Reuters) – Owen Farrell is the poster boy for those who argue the role of a team captain in sport is inflated as he appears supremely underwhelmed by the prospect of leading England out for the first time against France on Saturday.
Farrell’s approach is possibly because he usually takes the job when regular captain Dylan Hartley has been withdrawn from the fray as he invariably is around the hour mark under coach Eddie Jones.
But more pertinently, it is because to Farrell nothing will change. He has always been a leader and totally committed team man so taking on extra duties – whether it is holding a pre-match tackle bag or making a decision that might decide a championship – is just part of the job.
After being named as captain in place of the injured Hartley for the juicy Six Nations clash in Paris, the 26-year-old Farrell struggled to provide the answers the eager press pack were demanding.
The usual form is for the new man to declare how proud he is and how special it will be for his family, but Farrell – whose father Andy captained Britain’s rugby league team at 21 and took a similarly flat-line approach – genuinely did not seem to have given the issue much thought.
“I’ve not spoken to any of them yet, I’m sure my family are proud but for us as a team it’s all about the performance,” he said.
Asked if he had thought about what it would be like to lead the team out, he added: “Not yet. I’m looking forward to getting out there and the team performing well, that’s what I’m most excited about.”
Any stirring words planned for the changing-rooms before running out to face the French on their own patch?
“No more than I would do anyway,” he said. “If someone else has got something to say, fine, they’ll give good information.
“I’ll give it a bit thought, but if nothing needs saying, then nothing needs saying.”
Farrell’s approach would have been music to the ears of his Jones, who expects his experienced squad to provide leaders all over the pitch.
“He (Farrell) is no-nonsense and just gets on with it,” said the Australian of his centre and key goalkicker. “He knows what he wants to do, he knows what the team needs to do and he is quite direct in communicating that. He expects high standards.
“He’s been super-loyal to Dylan and loyalty in a team sport is one of the number one qualities you want. All of our guys are stars for their teams so the ability to work together and be loyal to each other is vital. Perhaps with past English teams, it has not been the case.”
Farrell will expect nothing less.
“You’ve seen what type of player I am, hopefully, you lead from the front and, first and foremost, play well,” he said.
Farrell is not so arrogant, however, to think there is nothing he can learn from other great captains and leaders.
“You’d be pretty stupid not to pick up things that others do well, people you admire,” he said.
And he might just have a little more up his sleeve than he likes to make out after revealing that he is studying for an online degree through Northumbria University.
The subject – business management and leadership.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)