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Lancaster: Farrell has another World Cup in him for England

Former England head coach Stuart Lancaster has told Sky Sports Owen Farrell can play for England again and “has the 2027 World Cup in him.”

Lancaster was instrumental in the signing of Owen Farrell last month for French Top 14 side Racing 92 where the former England head coach is now in charge of the Parisian giants.

Lancaster gave Farrell his first England cap in 2012 and has a long and trusted relationship not only with Owen, but with his father – the Ireland and British and Irish Lions head coach Andy Farrell.

Farrell made a decision to step away from playing for England late last year which has meant he has not been part of England’s Six Nations campaign this season. Farrell’s decision to step back from captaining and playing for his country was made to protect his family’s mental health, the often overbearing pressure of leading England exacerbated by social media abuse and being booed throughout the Rugby World Cup last autumn.

Current RFU eligibility laws rule out any player who plays their club rugby outside England. With Farrell signing a two-year deal with Racing 92 it had appeared the 32-year old was prepared to call time on his illustrious 112 cap England career. Not so says Lancaster, who will coach Farrell when he joins the Paris club later this year.

“(I) don’t know if it does…It depends on what he and Steve (Borthwick) thinks,” Lancaster said.

“He’s signed for two years so that takes him up to 2026. Johnny Sexton played for Ireland and Leinster until he was 38, Owen is 32. So he’s definitely got 2027 in him for sure. I would never say never, Owen won’t and why should he?

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Farrell is the latest England player putting his international career on hold after the financial lure of playing in France has become too great to turn down

“Owen had a big part to play in the decision making about coming here. Things didn’t go well at the Rugby World Cup (for him) and for me the same thing happened in 2015 and the best thing I did was to go to Ireland.

“I hope he ends up back in England as a player or a coach, but a couple of years here will do good just like for Jonny Wilkinson when he went to Toulon.”

Owen Farrell and Stuart Lancaster during the England captain's run at Forsyth Barr Stadium on June 13, 2014 in Dunedin, New Zealand
Image: Lancaster and Farrell will be reunited at Racing 92 next season

Mental health and family comes first

Farrell’s decision to move away from England has similarities with the experience Lancaster faced when in charge of England during the Rugby World Cup in 2015.

As hosts, much was expected of England, but instead the tournament unravelled with group-stage defeats against Wales and Australia which saw England become the first host nation to be eliminated before the knockout stage.

Speaking at Racing 92’s impressive training facility in the south-west suburbs of Paris, Lancaster told of the acute nature of the abuse both he and his family suffered; “I’ve been through a similar thing, the World Cup didn’t go well in 2015. My children were 15 and 16 at time, my wife and my parents paid the price as well as me.

“I know what it feels like and Owen went through a really tough time at the last World Cup and people seem to forget that when the narrative is turned all the good things you’ve done in the past are forgotten and everything you’ve done is now looked at in a negative slant.

“I made a decision to go to Ireland. You’re appreciated and welcome and that’s exactly how Racing feel about Owen. We will embrace his family and he will be made welcome.”

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England boss Steve Borthwick says he admires Farrell for his decision to step away from international rugby, but is hopeful he will return after the Six Nations

Could Lancaster return to coaching in England?

After four years in charge of England, the 54-year old made a decision he had to get away and it was Ireland who came calling. He joined the coaching set-up at Leinster and enjoyed a hugely successful seven seasons in Dublin before as Lancaster puts it: “When Racing came chatting, you listen!”

Lancaster has penned a four-year deal in Paris. His ambition and that of the club is to win both the European Cup – something Racing have never done – and again lift the Top 14 title.

It’s Lancaster’s ability to bring through younger homegrown talent that has clearly appealed to Racing’s owner, but he will need to find and blend local talent from Paris with players from South Africa, England, Wales, Argentina, Fiji and Georgia.

Lancaster, a teacher before becoming a rugby coach, gained great success and recognition when working with the England Saxons (now called England ‘A’) and his development of young talent. It was Lancaster, after all, that gave a 20-year old Farrell his first senior England cap.

Rugby Union - RBS Six Nations - Italy v England - Stadio Olympico
England coach Stuart Lancaster (left) congratulates England players including Owen Farrell (centre) as they leave the pitch following the Six Nations match at the Stadio Olympico, Rome, Italy.
Image: Lancaster handed Owen Farrell his first England Test cap

He also gave Owen’s father Andy his first International coaching job in rugby union when he was ‘loaned’ to the Saxons set up in 2010 before becoming Lancaster’s assistant and defence coach with the England senior side in 2011.

Racing 92 and the wider French Top 14 competition is more akin to the Premier League says Lancaster.

The support base for rugby is much greater in France, especially in traditional rugby areas in the south of the country and in Paris where Racing 92 and Stade Francais reside.

The former England head coach, probably once loathed in a sporting sense by the French for just being English, now sees the challenge of the environment he now works in.

“The support teams get, there’s relegation, there’s play-offs, the TV coverage is huge and the profile is so much higher than England. It is big, it feels a little like the Premier League model,” he said.

But what about unfinished business? What about how it ended with England? “It’s not like I’m resentful, disappointed or hurt, although the hurt at the time for me and my family was acute.

“I still try and help where I can (with England). I speak with Steve (Borthwick) and Richard Wigglesworth and my son Dan plays for Ealing Trailfinders. There’s no barrier to supporting England.

“International coaching, never say never. Not necessarily in England or Ireland, but the perhaps the southern Hemisphere. That attraction is strong. Also why not France, why not?! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, I have a challenge here in Paris. The aim is to win here.”

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