Owen Farrell interview: 'Saracens still want to improve — even in the Championship'

Jeremy Wilson
·6-min read
Owen Farrell interview: 'Saracens still want to improve — even in the Championship' - GETTY
Owen Farrell interview: 'Saracens still want to improve — even in the Championship' - GETTY

The longest break of Owen Farrell’s rugby career, and surely the strangest collective national experience, is about to be followed by the most unpredictable professional challenge.

If all goes to plan over the next year, rugby union’s return from its Covid-19 lockdown will begin next weekend with the completion of the domestic Premiership, move on next month to the European Champions Cup, where Leinster await Farrell’s Saracens in the quarter-finals, before completion of the longest Six Nations Championship on record, in October. 

A rearranged set of autumn internationals should then be staged in November, followed by the 2021 Six Nations Championship from February. Add in the planned British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, and the small matter of dropping down to the Championship with Saracens, and you are left with a schedule of quite dizzying variety and scale. 

Farrell’s excitement at returning to training and then resuming matches from next Saturday at Bristol is easily sensed, even if there are also words of caution at the importance of devising a longer-term schedule that recognises the physical limits of a rugby player.

“I can't wait,” says the England captain. “It has progressed from training on your own, to coming back to the club and training in small groups, to training more as a team. Now I can't wait for the games to get going. It's been a nice progression but, ultimately, you want a game at the end of the week.

“I have not had such a long break in my career before. I think everyone has tried to use it wisely, use it to get themselves in the best space physically and mentally — be ready for what is ahead.”

What lies ahead for some England players is the prospect of a full year of rugby and, while schedules are still being finalised, Farrell stresses the need for balance. “Obviously the safety of the players is key, and making sure that the players don't break down, otherwise it is not good for everyone,” he says.

“That is a massive part of scheduling obviously. As a player you want to concentrate on what you can do now, so that when it comes to selection for international games you are in the best position. I try to deal in what has been decided.” 

An enforced five-month break since March should certainly help physically. There has also been the chance for extended family time with his wife, Georgie, and their one-year-old son, Tommy, and, at the height of lockdown, getting inventive in the back garden with simple training routines that took him back to childhood. “It’s been different — but different in a good way,” says Farrell, who was speaking to promote BT Sport’s live coverage of the Gallagher Premiership Rugby. “I have spent some good time with the family which I probably wouldn't have the opportunity to do as much.

“There’s always stuff you can work on. It’s being creative, trying to figure out things that you can do in the back garden. I've always enjoyed kicking a ball around and throwing a ball around since being a kid. It’s getting back to that but finding different ways to do things - I guess exploring a bit with certain things.

"Another thing is to use the time to put your body in a good place. We have never had this type of time and opportunity to recover, and let your body get itself into the best position it can to kick on for the future. I feel good. It's been a positive time.”

Another significant development during lockdown was agreeing a new contract with Saracens. It is now almost 12 years since Farrell made his debut, aged 17 years and 11 days, to become the club’s youngest ever player and he has extended his commitment until at least 2022.

Owen Farrell shirt - PA
Owen Farrell shirt - PA

The significant backdrop to this latest deal was the certainty of dropping down a division next season, owing to the salary-cap breach punishment that has left Saracens on minus 63 points. Farrell says that there was no hesitation in deciding to stay and, after five Premiership and three European Champions Cup victories over this past decade, is confident that the club can still reach new heights. As well as Farrell, England internationals Jamie George, Elliot Daly and Mako Vunipola have all signed new contracts since the club were punished.

“It [the contract] was an easy decision,” says Farrell. “I have got a huge amount of care for the club along with a lot of other people who have been there for a similar amount of time. We all came to it individually but I guess there is an understanding how much the club means to the people involved in it. We didn't know what each other was doing but I guess there would have been an inkling.

“I have always been happy at the club, always competing to win things. That's the exciting thing in the future. Getting back to that. Obviously we have this season to finish off and that's exciting. Next season obviously will be a different challenge but I am looking forward to what the future is.”

And how will Saracens approach matches over the remainder of this season in the Premiership that will have no bearing on where the club finish, and then next season, when matches at places like Ampthill and Hartpury University will surely feel a long way from Twickenham?

“I have never felt like we have played in a game where it doesn’t matter,” says Farrell. “I’ve never felt like we have played in any competitive match where it feels like you don't want to perform and you don’t want to give your best. 

“We have only just come to figure out what is happening for the rest of this season. What next year looks like for us is not definite yet. I have not looked at it too much at the minute.

“The challenge is we have got to make sure we put ourselves in a position to come back up. That’s the main goal but we want to improve as a club as well. We want to make sure we kick on and that we grow. There will be a lot of work that goes in next year.

“As a group, we would always have expected ourselves to improve year on year. I don't think going down to the Championship changes that. We will look to make sure that, come the the end of the year, we will be in a better place and look to be a better team. We just want to get back playing rugby - enjoy what is happening now and put everything into that.”  

BT Sport will broadcast every game live from Gallagher Premiership Rugby that is played behind closed doors.Watch via the BT Sport Monthly Pass at bt.com/sport/monthly-pass