Owen Farrell's journey from the Wigan school fields to the World Cup Final
Owen Farrell will lead England out in Saturday’s World Cup Final in Japan - with an army of followers in hometown Wigan cheering him on.
Farrell, son of ex-Warriors coach Andy, is set to captain the national side against South Africa after recovering from a dead leg suffered in their 19-7 victory over New Zealand.
And Farrell will have many from the town watching his progress, not least his family, friends and those from his former junior club, St Pats, and his former two Wigan schools, Sacred Heart Primary and St John Fisher RC High.
“I think it’s absolutely fantastic,” said Cath Taylor, chair of St Pats.
“As a club we are very proud of what he has achieved.
“He obviously switched codes because of his family circumstances at the time but we’re very proud of the fact that the England rugby union captain in a World Cup Final is from our club.
“The coaches and former team-mates who knew him well speak fondly of him and say his grit and his determination was evident even as a youngster.”Farrell was a member of the St Pats side which won the National Cup at Under-14s and U16s level.
He had left the area to move down south before the second of those finals, after his dad signed for Saracens, but returned home for the match.
Among his team-mates that day was future Warrior and current Leigh player, Stefan Marsh.
It proved to be Farrell’s last game in league as he rapidly carved out a successful career in union.
He'd already had a taste of the 15-a-side code at St John Fisher – but by then, he had already made an impression in junior rugby league circles.
Dave Mallin has been involved in schoolboy rugby league for more than 50 years.
And having taught Farrell’s grandad, Peter – dad of Andy – at St John Fisher, would later coach Owen at Sacred Heart primary.
“We started him off playing rugby and even then, skill-wise, he was streets ahead,” said Mallin, who still coaches at St John Fisher, where he is chair of governors.
“When he got to Year Five, he played up a year for the town team and when he got to Year Six I remember describing him as ‘an 11-year-old with a brain of a 16-year-old’.
“He was sending out long balls, and he was so far ahead of the rest of them that, to be honest, he used to get a bit frustrated. We used to say to him, ‘Don’t worry, we know what you are trying to do', and over time the others got to that point of anticipating the long passes.
“But you could see the talent was there.
“It’s hard to forecast what players may go on to achieve because I’ve seen some very talented players not make it, for various reasons. But with Owen, and his background, there was a sense he was going to do something.”
Farrell, nephew of Warriors captain Sean O'Loughlin, is an ambassador for Wigan charity Joining Jack - he celebrates his scores by making the 'JJ' linked-fingers salute with his fingers - and still has close links with the town.
"Owen is very proud of his Wigan roots, he’s even still got the accent," said Mallin. “His grandad Peter told me that he even asked for some Wigan pies at his wedding!
"It's always great to see players who you've coached go on to play at the highest level, and I'll certainly be hoping he gets the win on Saturday.
“I remember seeing him with a rugby ball when he was four, and so to see him now captaining England in a World Cup Final – it’s amazing.”
St Pats won’t be opening early to show the final but Wigan RU’s Douglas Valley will be screening the match on their big screen, with the bar open and breakfast barms sold.
Ex-Warrior Jon Clarke, a former Hindley rugby league junior, is also a member of the England coaching staff.
South Africa reached the final by winning 19-16 against a Wales outfit which had two Wiganers, Shaun Edwards and Paul Stridgeon on their staff.