New dad Owen Farrell will launch himself into the mother and father of all European showdowns with far greater awareness of how to cope with Munster than with the demands of parenthood.
Last month, the England captain’s wife, Georgie Lyon, gave birth to a son — their first child — on the day her husband had been due to play in the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Glasgow.
He stayed with her at the hospital and eventually gave up on the idea of a hasty dash to Allianz Park, as the delivery took place while the match was going on.
New father Owen Farrell believes Saracens are capable of another Champions Cup triumph
The fly-half will have a pivotal role to play if his side are to earn a third title in four years
In his absence, Saracens swept aside their Scottish rivals to earn a place in the semi-final at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. Most of the squad celebrated with a short break together in St Anton, but Farrell was back at home, getting to grips with the new arrival. ‘There’s been no surprises because I didn’t have a clue in the first place!’ he said. ‘Has anyone?’
While Farrell is reluctant to open up about personal matters, he is evidently enjoying his new family life, adding: ‘It’s brilliant, I love it.’ What about sleep? ‘I’m good, I can’t feed him!’ he said.
‘I find it unbelievably engaging, when you are at home. People said this to me before you have children: when you are at home and you have got children it is engaging to be at home, to sit there with him — although he can’t do too much at the minute — but your mind is not wandering.
Your mind is not thinking about what has happened at training, your mind is not thinking about what is going to happen the next day, so you find yourself in it a lot more.’
Farrell’s wife Georgie gave birth to their first child before Saracens’ quarter-final match
His family life may just provide the perspective and balance that Farrell requires during a pivotal period in his sporting life.
At 27, he has inherited the Test captaincy and is seemingly on course to lead England into the World Cup later this year.
Yet, the Six Nations defeat against Wales and the epic 38-38 draw with Scotland which saw England surrender a 31-0 lead prompted criticism of his leadership and an admission by Eddie Jones that as skipper, he is a work in progress.
With Saracens preparing to face Munster and their fabled Red Army this afternoon, Farrell was as reluctant to discuss the Scotland game at Twickenham as he was to talk about fatherhood, but he did touch on the awkward subject.
‘How much momentum they got was a shock to us,’ he said, in reference to how the Scots scored six unanswered tries. ‘We tried to do what we thought was right at the time, but we couldn’t get back in control of it, until the end.’
It is a big year for Farrewll as he takes on the England captaincy with the World Cup looming
Asked if that episode would provide valuable lessons which will be relevant on the pitch, Farrell added: ‘Definitely. You have to stay in control, not only of what you’re doing but how you feel and how you react to everything that’s thrown at you. That’s something that is massive this weekend.
‘As soon as you think it is going to go one way and it goes another, if you are not ready for that then it is a shock and you get flustered.
‘That is something we don’t want to be at the weekend, we want to be in control of how we feel and in control of how we play. That will be big for us.’
The England captain insists his side need to remain in control of the match throughout
In Coventry, amid a hostile atmosphere — with their fans emphatically out-numbered — Saracens will need the familiar version of Farrell who retains composure and control and authority. They will need the assured playmaker who has all the answers in every conceivable situation, not the hurried, flustered version who lost his way, as did his England team, when pressure was applied by Wales and Scotland.
‘Obviously you learn from every experience that you are thrown into and I learned a lot throughout that Six Nations,’ said Farrell. ‘There were a lot of things that we thought we did well and some things we could have done better. But I’m focused on Munster now.’
He knows what is coming and he is adamant that he and Saracens can handle both, the opposition and the grand occasion.
‘Munster are a team that fight for everything, they are a team that love playing on the big European nights and afternoons and this is one of them, so it is going to be tough,’ said Farrell.
‘We have to be aware of them rising to that level which they have done before in Europe and not be shocked by it, be able to deal with that and play our own game.
‘You don’t get much bigger than European semi-finals against a club like Munster and as much as they love playing in these big games, we do too. We have not done too badly in them before.’
Saracens stormed to a 26-10 victory over Munster in Dublin in the semi-finals in 2017
He has a point. Two years ago, Saracens stormed to a 26-10 victory over Munster in Dublin at the same stage of this tournament on the way to winning the title for the second successive year. The English champions have appeared in three of the last five finals in Europe’s blue riband event.
Farrell may not have known what to expect from parenthood, but he knows exactly what to expect from these Irish visitors. If he stays in control, Saracens will surely be heading for another final.
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