ENGLAND’S STRINGS ARE IN FAMILIAR HANDS THIS SIX NATIONS – INDEED GEORGE FORD AND OWEN FARRELL HAVE BEEN PUPPET-MASTERS FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY FOR NIGH ON A DECADE AND HAVE KNOWN EACH OTHER SINCE THEY WERE NIPPERS UP NORTH.
GS: So when did you first meet?
OF: It’d have been when we were kids; we’d have played against each other at rugby league when we were really young. Ten, twelve? Maybe even younger than that.
GF: I think we knew of each other more – you know, like that’s Owen Farrell, Andy Farrell’s son. Besides he was about two foot taller than everyone else and ran through everyone. One game I can remember, the ref went up to him and said, mate, you’re going to have to play at fifty per cent here, so we were thankful to the ref that day.
OF: I was playing for Wigan St. Patrick’s and he was playing for a club in Oldham. I can’t remember which one it was. He played for them all I think.
GF: I was playing for Waterhead. Wigan St. Pats was the team that always used to go around smashing everybody and I think from that age group there were a load of players who went on to play for Wigan.
GS: So the first time you played together would have been …?
OF: When we went to school together, when both of our Dads were at Saracens. I think he was thirteen and I was fourteen – Harpenden St. George’s.
GF: Yeah, we both started to play union then – I think he was still running through people for fun. We used to live opposite each other – literally five metres from front door to front door, walked to school together. Sounds very romantic, doesn’t it?
OF: He was the ten and I was the twelve. We were just constantly out the front kicking a ball around or passing a ball around, you know, normal stuff out in the street.
GF: I think it was called Hanover Close. Big long driveway; used to be our rugby pitch back in the day.
GS: So who did who’s homework?
OF: He did mine. He was one of those kids who as soon as he had his homework, he’d get it done. You know, he had his bag packed for school the day before and he had check-lists and stuff like that and I was more a leave-it-til-the-last-minute type of lad, so if we wanted to get out and kick a ball, he’d help me out so we could get outside quicker.
GF: He was terrible at keeping on top of his schoolwork so I’d go over there and colour in a few pictures for him.
GS: Did he have a specialty?
OF: He was better than me at French
GF: Plus we had a table tennis table in our garage; there was me, Owen and my brothers and we used to play ‘king of the table’ and whoever lost had to go and knock on someone’s door and run away. Which I’ve never admitted to before but it was quite funny at the time.
GS: So how well do you know him? What’s his middle name?
OF: Phew, I don’t know.
GF: (Firmly) Andrew.
GS: Very good. Do you know when his birthday is?
GF: No, don’t have a clue.
OF: His birthday? (Long pause.) I should know this but I don’t.
GS: Okay, what do you call him?
GS: Do you ever call him George?
OF: No. Always Fordy.
GF: What do I call him? Faz. Maybe Owen if I’m annoyed with him. Depends what’s going on.
GS: And are you great mates because you’re similar people or because you’re different?
OF: I think we’re pretty different. I guess what we have in common is the way we think about rugby. We end up talking about it all day so we think quite similarly when it comes to that.
GF: I think we’re both a bit obsessive with the game. We’ll watch matches whenever they’re on TV and we bounce ideas off each other when we’re in camp. We get a few comments – y’know, get a life – and people think we’re boring but it’s just the way we are. Growing up in a rugby family, it’s what you do,
GS: So in what ways are you different?
OF: He’s tidy I’m a bit messier, I guess.
GF: Well, I suppose I’m a bit of a neat freak. I wouldn’t say I was OCD but I like things tidy.
GS: Do you have lists, George?
GF: (Cautiously) Um, sometimes. I’ll do a list of things I need to bring into camp.
GS: And if you forgot something, would that tick you off?
GF: Yeah, that would really annoy me. I mean really annoy me. That’s why I have a list.
GS: And does he have a big indulgence?
OF: I remember when we were kids he always had sweets – I’d always be nicking them off him.
GS: So do you trust him? If you loaned him your lawnmower, would you get it back?
GF: Yeah, I’d definitely get it back. Not sure how clean it’d be, mind.
GS: So do you room together?
OF: No. Rooming’s kept pretty steady. We always change up when we’re in training camp but in test week you stick to what you know. So he rooms with Ben Youngs, which is a key partnership obviously.
GS: That’s a lot of cosmetics in one room.
GS: And you room with?
GS: And who makes the tea in the morning?
OF: I do. Actually, we have coffee.
GS: And is that because you’re up earlier or because he’s the skipper?
OF: No, it’s my machine and stuff; I bring it into camp so it’s down to me.
GS: I hear you’re a bit of a barista: a bit of a coffee professor?
OF: I am a bit.
GS: So if Eddie Jones said, look, George, I want you to room with Owen, would that be a problem?
GF: Well, we’d need a few rules about tidiness, I suppose, but, yeah, there’d be a fair bit of rugby chat. And a lot of coffee because he’s very into his coffee. But there’d be an issue with the tidiness, I think.
GS: Do you ever holiday together?
OF: No, but we did once end up on holiday together by accident. It was before the World Cup and three or four of us all ended up in the same place. Yeah, it was good.
GF: Yeah, me and Jess booked a holiday to Mykonos and then we got there to find he was there with his girlfriend, Georgie, and Chris Ashton was there with his wife. We had some great nights out – meals and stuff – and it ended up being good fun.
GS: So was England Schools the first time things got ‘serious’?
OF: Yeah, we played together at under 16s – ten and twelve – that’d have been my year, so he played a year up. And we played 18s and 20s together too,
GS: And has it always been Ford at ten and Farrell at twelve?
GF: Yeah, when we’ve played together. But with a view to not getting too caught up with what number you’ve got on your back.
GS: You must know hat he’s going to do before he’s even thought of doing it?
OF: Maybe on a rugby pitch, yeah. I guess we’ve spent enough time together. We know how each other works.
GS: So is a lot of stuff instinctive?
OF: I guess the more you talk the more you know and the more instinctive you become. But he’s the one that’s calling the plays; he’s the ten. I guess I’m there to help him out as much as I can. I might say what about this or that but he’s the boss.
GF: I genuinely think it’s both of us and certainly he’s a great defence leader for us. But I suppose, yes, being a ten you want to be the king and call the shots but to have someone like Owen helping you out and contributing is brilliant.
OF: Good decisions are what the game’s all about so I give him as much information as I can and hopefully everyone around makes good decisions off the back of it. We’re making it more than what it is here. It’s just the more talk there is, the clearer it is what’s on.
GS: And do you work together on goal kicking?
GF: Yeah, we kick together all the time in camp – obviously Jonny comes in and helps us structure the sessions but we try to get the best out of each other and we do little and often every day, kicking together and coaching each other.
GS: Do you know how many tries George has scored for England. No reason why you should but…. ?
OF: I’d say four or five.
GF: Me? Good question. Four? Three?
GS: And how many’s he scored?
GS: Correct. There you are, you’re one up
OF: What, he’s four is he?
GS: See, you’re asking aren’t you?
GS: And is there anything in his game you wish you had in yours?
GF: I think the main thing is how ‘in the game’ he is and how competitive he is and then when it comes to a critical moment of a goal kick how controlled and cool he is. How he can flick a switch I suppose from being in the heat of the battle to being ice cold and that’s one thing I’ve always admired. And every game he plays in, he’s brilliant at that.
GS: So what do you and George never agree on?
OF: He was a bit of a St. Helens fan growing up so that was a pretty big problem, me being a Wiganer. I think he got kicked out of our house once because he was wearing a Saints shirt.
GF: Yeah, he’ll never ever forgive me for that. I used to live next door to Paul Sculthorpe – bit of a legend – so I supported St. Helens growing up and then in London I turned up to Owen’s house in a St. Helen’s shirt and its probably the worst thing I’ve ever done because they’re Wigan die-hards, aren’t they? So I had to go home and change my shirt. They wouldn’t let me in the house.
GS: And down the years, who’s become the soft southerner?
GF: (Instantly) Owen.
OF: I guess I’ve lived down south longer. But when he went back up north, he went to a posher school than I did.
GF: No, it’s him. I can tell from his accent some of the words he says. And he never liked coffee – ever – until he moved to Harpenden and now he’s a coffee snob. I’ve been to cafes with him on tour in Australia and he’s ordered a flat white and he’s pushed the coffee away and he’s said, no I’m not having that. Not up to his standards. So I mean that proves it, doesn’t it?
03 FEBRUARY 2017