Andy Farrell has a deep understanding of the intricacies of Lions tours and knows how to bring everything together.
At Andy Farrell’s initial media appearance as head coach of the British and Irish Lions, one of the top inquiries was the specific number of individuals required to coordinate a rugby tour in the modern age.
In 1888, during the initial tour, the Lions only had a team of two in their backroom staff. Today, 136 years later, it takes three staff members to greet and guide each attendee up to the 14th floor of the office building where the event is held. The Lions now have around 90 staff members at their busiest, but with the addition of sponsors, media personnel, and public relations coordinators, it can feel like there are almost 900 people involved.
The Lions tour has evolved into a grand spectacle, involving numerous performers and a filming crew. It’s impressive that it still successfully operates, considering the typical time needed to build a successful team. Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber spent five years perfecting the South African team that won two World Cups. The idea of achieving similar success in just a few weeks during the tour, which occurs once every four years, seems absurd. Especially when the players spend the other 46 months competing against each other. This tradition dates back to the amateur era and is no longer relevant in the professional era.
The fact that it is still ongoing demonstrates two things – the undeniable appeal of the concept and the dedication of a small group of coaches to convince players from successive generations to fully commit. The success of the Lions depends on the ability of these coaches to unite everyone for a short period of time. This is not just a series or a tournament, but a unique tour that presents a different kind of challenge compared to leading a national team in a World Cup cycle or a club team in a league campaign. The Lions require a head coach who truly comprehends the essence of this experience.
Due to months of speculation and discussion, there is much debate about who should be selected for the Lions team for their tour of Australia. However, the most crucial decision has already been made. While Farrell has achieved success as a coach for Ireland, his record in three World Cups (as both assistant and head coach) is not exceptional. In 2015, England was eliminated in the group stages, and Ireland in the quarter-finals in 2019 and 2023. Despite this, he is the suitable candidate for this role.
Warren Gatland was in charge of the last three tours. He gained his knowledge about the Lions from Ian McGeechan, who took him to South Africa in 2009. Gatland then passed on this knowledge to Farrell, whom he selected as one of his assistants in 2013 and 2017. Farrell spoke extensively about the significant impact that the 2013 tour had on him. Despite being a relatively new coach, Gatland asked him to take on the role. According to Farrell, this experience ignited a passion in him that has continued to burn ever since.
Upon realizing his passion for it, he expressed his desire to continue participating in the future. He thoroughly enjoys the structure of the games and the challenges faced by the team on tour. The three-match Test component holds a special significance as there is always a clear winner. In 2013, they were able to turn the series around and come out victorious. The memory of rallying and delivering a strong performance in the third Test is one that will always be cherished. He looks forward to experiencing it again.
Farrell felt a slight sense of embarrassment when he was reminded of his well-known speech prior to the third Test of that tour. In his speech, he motivated the players by saying they were going to face Australia in the “hurt arena”. Reflecting on that moment, Farrell acknowledged that he has matured since then and is now less dramatic in his approach.
He may not possess the same level of skill in handling the media as Gatland; he is not as adept at making humorous remarks or delivering sharp criticisms, and he may not be able to influence the referees or provoke the opposing team in the same manner as Gatland.
There is no question that he possesses the ability to form strong connections with his players and motivate them to perform for him and for their team. This is crucial on a Lions tour.