TACKLING A LIONS TOUR
Andy Farrell explains how to develop a defensive system designed to shut out the All Blacks in just a few weeks
FOR MANY on a Lions tour, particularly one to New Zealand, rugby can be so all-encompassing that the opportunity to switch off is as important as the next training session. Not so for Andy Farrell; he is happy to be consumed by the sport.
“I’ll be sitting on a couch talking about rugby,” he says of those times he’s not coaching or analysing match footage. “Lots of people feel they need a break but I’m very lucky and don’t feel I do. I love talking about rugby, I love other people’s point of view and I love sharing ideas with people.”
Sharing ideas is the essence of Lions tours – he remembers the Irish players being the most inquisitive in 2013 and has found the same now he’s Ireland’s defence coach, saying: “They want to know why they’re doing things, how they can get better.”
Yet Farrell also recognises the importance of starting the tour with a clear idea of what you want to do as a defensive unit. Make things too complicated and the players won’t be able to grasp the intricacies in the tight time frame. “The basis is simplicity – setting out what you want to stand for and not drifting too early off that. If you do, you’re still not standing for anything. You get the base down, then work on adapting and growing that.
“Luckily enough I’ve had to do this a few times, get a new side together. I did the England Saxons tour to Denver (in 2010) and that was a fantastic experience. You have a new side and players you’ve never worked with, and you realise early that if you go in with all sorts of ideas you don’t get what you want. Building your way through things is important.”
Farrell has worked with the majority of this squad before, in his roles with England, Ireland or the 2013 Lions. Plus, he has been part of two coaching teams to have beaten New Zealand: England in 2012 and Ireland in 2016. Still, it takes a lot of work to develop a defensive system to try to contain the All Blacks.
The Farrells at the Champions Cup final