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Except it didn’t quite turn out like that. As Jones recalls in his autobiography, early in the second half the enormous Alun Wyn Jones picked the ball out of the base of a ruck and charged at full pelt towards the young Farrell, who had foolishly stationed himself at first guard. Surely no contest. To the astonishment of Wyn Jones, however, Farrell was not merely standing his ground, but taunting him. “Come on, then!” he shouted. “F****** run at me, you c***!”
A reminder, if one were required, that from his earliest days in the game Farrell has always been one of those players who carries around with him a strange and powerful infatuation. You could call it self-belief, but in many ways, it goes even deeper than that: self-certainty, perhaps even self-inevitability. It would have been an even funnier story if Wyn Jones had subsequently bounced Farrell into next week, but he didn’t. Instead Farrell, despite giving away a sizeable weight deficit, wrapped two wiry arms around his man and stopped him dead in his tracks.
Jones remembers being so impressed by Farrell that day that he sought out his father and England assistant coach Andy to inform him that he had a rare and special talent on his hands. Of course, in the England camp they all knew that already, but perhaps even they didn’t yet quite know how special. For only the most optimistic of observers would have cast eyes on this scrawny, skittish young kid and seen the man who would one day lead England out in a World Cup final.
On Saturday evening in Yokohama, Farrell will become the fourth Englishman to captain his team in a World Cup final. The first was Will Carling in 1991, a military man from a boarding school background with an upper-crust smirk and a penchant for the good life: almost a cartoonist’s caricature of what an England rugby captain might look like. Then came Martin Johnson in 2003, a gruff, taciturn presence who preferred to lead by epic deed than by soaring word. Four years later it was the turn of Phil Vickery, the tireless Cornish tighthead whose leadership style was based on the non-negotiable fundamentals of desire, graft and warrior spirit.
Are leaders born or made? It’s probably a bit of both, but Farrell is perhaps the most “made” leader of the quartet: the only one, for instance, who has an academic qualification in the subject, having done a degree in business management at the University of Northumbria. He studies and researches and thinks about leadership in a way few of his predecessors did, to the point where Eddie Jones began to worry that he was spending too much time thinking about the captaincy and not enough on his game. And over the course of his journey in international rugby, Farrell has learned that the job demands a unique blend of consensus and artifice: the openness and humility that gets a room talking, the charisma that gets it to shut up and listen.
And when Farrell speaks in a team environm
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