sport news RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: England captain Owen Farrell is a man of steel... his ... trends now
Owen Farrell is a hard man. Always was and still is, but it can be hard to truly know a hard man.
I don’t know Farrell, not personally, and we’ve never spoken properly. But I know he’s hard, because we can all see that he’s hard.
Maybe it’s his glare. It’s a hard man’s glare. Or maybe it’s the layering of muscle and what we say about the way he tackles — the hard hits of the hard son of a hard rugby man. A hard son who often seems indifferent to what we think about any of it.
But here’s the thing about hard men. Hardness can be a shaper of narratives. Hardness obscures. Hardness deflects. Light doesn’t pass through hard objects and so we cannot see what is inside them. And we rarely saw what was inside Farrell — he isn’t the sort to offer guided tours of his soul and we all took the hardness of his shell for granted.
A colleague offered an interesting thought on it when we chatted on Friday, on the back of the most startling sporting story of the week, when we learned Farrell would be taking an indefinite break from international rugby to rebuild his mental health. The phrase he used is that Farrell is a player’s captain, not a media captain, with the point being that this was a guy who doesn’t quite see the value in letting you in.
Owen Farrell has always been a hard man but has now chosen to not play in the 2024 Six Nations to focus on his mental well-being
Farrell has never had much time for opening up to the media, but stepping away from international rugby for now shows he is struggling
For Farrell, his words were better used on those who win the games. On the showmen, not the show. The rest is waste. All of which meant he hasn’t much cared for engaging in chats to cameras and microphones.
He can seem disinterested. Closed. Inscrutable. Charmless to some. And that’s fine — steel is often cold to the touch and steel runs through Farrell. It has made him great. It made him the captain of England and behind only Dan Carter in the all-time points list of Test rugby. It has also made him a little unknowable.
That steel was there in a snippet I heard about him this week, dating back to 2014, when a reporter from Mail Sport visited Saracens to do a piece with a group of five academy graduates who had lit up the first XV. They were the class of 2008 and, as is the way of these things, there was a desire to echo Manchester United’s Class of 92.
Apparently, that extended to an attempt by the photographer to recreate a famous picture, the one of Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, a couple of Nevilles and Terry Cooke, all stood in a line with hands on the shoulders of the prodigy in front.
Except Farrell didn’t fancy the idea. ‘We’re not a boy band,’ was the reasoning and that was that. Aged 23, he was already a man who knew what he was and knew what he wasn’t — he was a man of steel and steel doesn’t bend.
But it can and it has and arguably the greatest shock here is that there is any shock at all. Because this is a