- England Backs Coach has great respect for Ireland fly half
- “He is desperate to get the best out of his team” – Farrell
As part of the British and Irish Lions coaching team that toured Australia, Andy Farrell worked closely with Johnny Sexton last summer and believes Ireland’s fly half is the leading number 10 in European rugby.
Sexton started all three of the Lions’ Tests against the Wallabies Down Under, helping steer Warren Gatland’s side to a 2-1 series win.
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And the Racing Metro man has been in exceptional form at the start of the current RBS 6 Nations, combining icy game management with pinpoint kicking to shrug off the challenges of both Scotland and Wales in Dublin.
He now heads to Twickenham with designs of sealing a Triple Crown for Joe Schmidt’s men, and England’s Backs Coach outlined his immense respect for the Irish playmaker.
“The biggest compliment you can give any professional is that they have a good attitude and a winning mentality,” said Farrell. “Johnny has those things in abundance. His work ethic and desperation to get the best out of his team really rubs off on people.
“I think he’s the leading fly half in Europe. He’s an experienced campaigner who’s been in a big old battle with Ronan O’Gara for the start of his career. Ronan had over 100 caps for Ireland and won many trophies.
“For Johnny to eventually push him out shows what a competitor he is. The guy’s 28 now and he’s been there and done that, with the Lions too. He’s at the top of his game.”
Outside Sexton on Saturday is likely to be the gnarled midfield pairing of Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll, who boast a tally of 215 Test caps between them. As Farrell outlined, that axis is key for Ireland’s attack in terms of communication and option-taking.
Turning to back to the Lions tour, Farrell also said that his son Owen has benefitted from spending time with such a proven performer in Sexton.
“The game understanding, the general application and what it takes to get better as a professional – Owen’s taken all that in and they were great mates over that eight-week period,” he added. “They roomed a lot and I’m sure they rubbed off on each other.”
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“Within the tour itself Owen improved a lot but a lot of players within this England set-up are so young that they were going to improve anyway. The more knowledge you can give them, the more it’s going to stick. That’s why we’ve seen such an improvement across the whole squad.
“The more time they spend together, the more they learn about each other and each other’s instincts. At the moment, they are progressing nicely.”
Opposite O’Driscoll on Saturday at HQ is Northampton Saint Luther Burrell, who has marked each of his first two internationals against France and Scotland with tries. And despite the glaring disparity in experience at the top level, Farrell backed England’s outside centre to hold his own.
“I’ve been very impressed with his first two performances,” he finished. “We had Luther with us during the autumn to train and you could just see that he was comfortable in his own skin. You knew the Test match arena wouldn’t faze him.
“Over his first two games he’s fitted in seamlessly not only to international rugby, but also to 13, where people thought there might be question marks.”