Interview with Toby Flood

January 9, 2024
10 Minute Read

The former England fly-half said:

  • Social media abuse was the straw that broke the camel’s back
  • English rugby is all over the place and will miss a really important player
  • In England terms Owen has carried the weight of the world on his shoulders for too long
  • He’s never had the proper appreciation in the eyes of the public
  • Owen has become an easy target and a whipping boy
  • He hasn’t gone for the money. He could earn more in England
  • He’ll have no problem with his tackle technique in France
  • Having Stuart Lancaster as his head coach will make a huge difference
  • Owen may seem teak tough but he has feelings too

Social media was straw that broke the camel’s back – look at impact to Wilkinson’s mental health

Social media is horrible. When I first started there was none of it. It is human nature to focus on the negative rather than the positive. For all the steeliness he shows, there is only so much armour you can keep putting on. There will always be a chink. He has carried the weight of the world for England in 2015 and 2019 and 2023. The battering he has had is enormous. To carry the weight of that organisation as captain for eight years and as the fly half, will have taken its mental toll.

Look at the impact it had on Jonny Wilkinson and his mental health. We expect sportsmen and women to be above it all and be able to take it. But for Owen it must have been so hard when all the chatter at every press conference is about him – that constant cycle that washing machine effect, does rinse you out. But he will be in the spotlight ion France too,  so he won’t escape! But it will be a new environment.

There is so much talent heading across the channel there has to be a conversation to be had. 

For Owen to have given away his England career must have been a really hard decision, the hardest of his life.  When an England captain steps away that has to prompt questions in Twickenham. He has dealt with being the focal point for years. To do what he has done is very brave.

It is not all down to social media abuse because he has been that focal point with Saracens and England for so long that that baggage has become too heavy. The social media will have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

English rugby is all over the place – it will miss a real legend

It is remarkable. English rugby is a bit all over the place. Not many organisations have operated like the RFU.

Club rugby is great, but the salary cap dropping dramatically will have influenced some decisions. The new hybrid contracts sounds like quite an interesting time to be an England player. Does it feel like turmoil or finally are things settling down after years of mismanagement and players are actually getting properly looked after. The RFU initiative will be central contracts in all but name and be a big influence on how England operate.

England should be the best team in the world with the talent and playing strength. You must hope that the worst is over.

You want to have left the game and the team in a better place than when you started. And Owen can hold his head high. His legacy is assured as a captain and player. He achieved a huge amount, it’s just the big one – the World Cup – that got away. England are going to miss a really important player, a guy who has created a real legacy. It is odd to think that someone like him has not had the rewards he should have had in terms of his public perception.

He has not been appreciated enough in England

Yes, Farrell has not been appreciated enough. He has become something of an easy target. Everyone who knows him and has played with him, they love playing with him and what he brings. He is not a Marcus Smith who dances and side steps and looks spectacular.

He’ll have no problem with tackle technique in France

He’ll be fine in France! They won’t even look at it. And for years England have been screaming out for a fly half who could tackle and there he is. Jonny started it and Owen has carried it on.

Lancaster as his coach will make a huge difference

When you have been part of a system for a long, long time which he has been, there comes the time that he feels he wants to test the water somewhere else.

It wouldn’t be for the money. If he stayed with Saracens and continued with England, he would be making more money here. That is a matter of fact. He is one of the top two Saracens’ earners and with the new RFU hybrid contracts, and as England captain he would be well rewarded. So finances won’t have come into it.

You have to consider what it means to him as an individual. He will be in a good space in Paris because Stuart Lancaster – the former England coach who he knows well – has taken over there. So Owen will have a nice soft landing there.

The French have a way of playing, but having Stuart there and the systems he will introduce will align more to him and the way that he plays and the fact that he knows people there.

They came into England at the same time and Stuart gave him his debut in 2012. Stuart was also a huge fan of Owen’s dad Andy. He loves him as a character and as an influencer.  Having someone aligned to his Dad’s mentality and aura will go a long way.

I was talking to Henry Arundell’s agent recently and he said how influential Stuart had been in persuading Henry to stay at Racing and not go back to England to join Bath. Henry can work with one of the best coaches around for a few years and still come back to England at a young age.

Moving to Toulouse was hardest decision of my career

It was something I looked at for a while. It was without doubt the hardest decision I came to in my rugby career. And it probably was for Owen. I was given some assurances that if I came back in 2015 I would be part of the larger World Cup squad. That didn’t happen. But it influenced my decision, thinking I could have my cake and eat it.

I always wanted to do something else. It was very hard to begin with but got easier once you learned the language and integrated with the squad. Toulouse could not have been more different to Leicester who focused on brutalising teams and had a very structured game plan. In Toulouse they’d run it from behind their own posts.

Owen will find a happy medium. Racing will have the talent to have a crack but with Lancaster in charge he will mould things and mix the pragmatic.

Lancaster will have undoubtedly influenced Owen’s decision

It is very rare for a French team to bring in an Anglo Saxon coach like Stuart who is quite compartmentalised and structured in his behaviour. If Racing buy into that with the talent pool and quality, they have there is a chance that his influence will run far deeper than just the playing squad.

It will run into every single metric, strength and conditioning, how they operate on a daily basis, how they operate structurally and logistically. Owen knows that sort of environment and the tentacles of Stuart Lancaster across the whole operation, so that will be a great place for him and will have definitely influenced Owen’s decision.

Lancaster will be a better coach after bitter England experience

He has to be. When Stuart first came in in 2012 you knew he was very good at managing himself but also what he wanted to achieve. But there was definitely some rawness about him. That is why he relied on characters like Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell and Mike Catt more than he would know. He will have learnt a huge amount out of his failures.

At Leinster he will have learned a huge amount from the players around him. He has always been very receptive to people’s ideas and thoughts and is very honest about how he wants to play the game. But you can influence him in the right way. Certainly, when I played under him he was very willing to listen but at the same time could be quite stern. He can learn a lot himself from how the French want to play the game. It is the most exciting league in Europe. 

Owen can learn a lot about the French game

They love to do stuff off the cuff. It is structured chaos. Racing aren’t like Toulouse who would make a call and try bonkers rugby.  Owen will find certain personnel won’t do what he wants occasionally, and there might be issues about the fitness of some players although I think that’s changed. When I was at Toulouse there were players who were not as fit as they should have been.

If he can take control of that team they have a 90% goal kicker and an unbelievable wealth of talent and a guy who will lead. If he gets control of that team which all 10s need to do and start to run things in his own way then I think it will be fascinating to see how Racing 92 evolve. The quality they have is amazing and Jacky Lorenzetti (the owner) has been chasing a 10 for a long time that can win him something and potentially Owen is that person, a player who can turn the screw.

I’ll be surprised if we don’t see him in an England shirt again

I would imagine that in his contract there are numerous break clauses to cover every scenario. I would be surprised if we didn’t see him back in England at some point and I would be surprised not to see him in an England shirt again. This is not forever. But at this moment just to dial back must be a relief. That’s not to say that he won’t be focused on. But it will be different and if it gets tough he can shrug his shoulders and go to boulangerie.

France will make him a better player

Racing are a massive club. When you’re a big club in France and go to play smaller clubs they all descend on you. It will make him a better player because it will open his eyes to what rugby can be like both on and off the field. The way they play is so, so different. In the Top 14 a game can spark into life in a split second, the crowd gets behind you and you’re on a wave. It’s a very different cadence there. It’s the Gallic flair something embedded in their mentality which enables them to create a different speed and tempo when things go right. He will learn a huge amount from trying to control that environment and trying to manage it.

Not as important as they are in the UK! Nines do run the game. Everything goes through the nine. They are the focal point. They are so much closer to the forwards and the French like that for a scrum half to organise the forwards.  That can help to lift the pressure on Owen. It’s going to be very different and on occasions challenging and exasperating. But if Owen prepares himself mentally, and he has been to some dark places in his career and come through, then he will love it.

There comes a time in life when you can’t always keep being the top guy. Every day at Saracens and England people looked to him as their leader. There are times when people say,  ‘It’s time I got out.’ He’s 32 now and has had a remarkable career, and is one of the few to win more than 100 caps.

Owen Farrell risked going mentally stale – great coaches keep things exciting

Yes, you can especially at somewhere like Saracens where everything is regimented. That’s one of skills of a great coach, trying to keep it exciting.  The repetitiveness and processes can get on top of you especially if you’re the man driving it like Owen has been. He’s been the one who has always had to set the example and drive things on.

Tom Middleton

Tom is a crypto gambling expert with more than a decade of experience in the industry and Master’s Degree in Journalism. He has written thoroughly researched guides and reviews for several major publications.

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