Rugby World Cup final: Owen Farrell, by his uncle Sean O'Loughlin
Follow our live blog as England face South Africa in the Rugby World Cup final in Yokohama on Saturday (kick-off: 9am)
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 02/11/19 8:54am
When Owen Farrell leads England onto the field in Yokohama on Saturday morning to face South Africa in the Rugby World Cup final, there will be another national team captain keeping a particularly close eye on proceedings.
That is because Sean O'Loughlin, skipper of England in the 13-a-side code, is the uncle of Farrell by the way of his elder sister being married to the 28-year-old's father and O'Loughlin's former Wigan Warriors team-mate, Andy.
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The family connection means the back row has seen Farrell grow from a rugby-mad youngster taking his first steps in the sport to leading his country on rugby union's grandest stage and to within touching distance of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.
"It's strange when you think of it like that, but since he's become a professional and kicked on the way he has done there was no doubt he was going to be a world-class player," O'Loughlin told Sky Sports.
"The stage he's at now, it's about the whole team as well and he's come through at a time when he's got a great team around him.
"Like any kid playing rugby, he always had that determination about him as an individual; that will to win and the hunger to do well.
"He loved the game, but he loved to win as well and when you see him doing it on the big stage now you still see those traits in him."
Growing up in the rugby league hotbed of Wigan as the son of a professional player, it is no surprise Farrell got his early experiences of an oval ball in his hand with one of the town's renowned amateur clubs, Wigan St Patricks.
Then when Andy crossed the divide and moved south to join Saracens in 2005, Farrell junior followed him and started playing the 15-man code in the junior set-up at Harpenden.
From there, he progressed through the ranks at Sarries, becoming the youngest player to appear in English professional rugby aged just 17 and establishing himself as an integral part of the team which has dominated on the domestic and European fronts in recent seasons - be that dictating play at fly-half or directing from midfield at inside centre.
Along with having the same goal-kicking prowess as his father, international honours have followed too and Farrell has become the man entrusted with the responsibility of the captaincy by England head coach Eddie Jones after initially sharing the role with Dylan Hartley.
O'Loughlin mostly remembers a youngster who just enjoyed playing rugby, but sees some similarities between his nephew and the father he played alongside in Super League.
"Andrew had all of the traits Owen has got now as a player and he's got them as a coach as well, so Owen has learnt from the very best," O'Loughlin said.
"The biggest one would be the competitive nature he has got. I had an opportunity to play alongside Andrew at Wigan and you see that not only when you play with him, but turn up with him on a daily basis.
"That's probably the biggest thing you could compare with them. They obviously have similar parts of how they play, but there are big differences as well. But one similarity would be that determination and competitiveness."
He loved the game, but he loved to win as well and when you see him doing it on the big stage now you still see those traits in him.
Sean O'Loughlin on Owen Farrell
O'Loughlin is in no doubt Farrell's experience of playing league and union during his childhood has served him well in his professional career too.
"I'm a big fan of both games," O'Loughlin said. "I think sometimes people pick a side and stick to that against the others, but I think more and more people now enjoy both games.
"They see the skill in both games and there is a lot of crossover from both sides.
"Owen grew up in a league environment and then in the juniors playing union, so he's had the best of both worlds where he's got to learn the two sports well."
Come 9am on Saturday, O'Loughlin will be sat on his sofa at home watching the action unfold on television as Farrell and his team-mates aim to join the icons of 2003 in claiming the biggest prize in rugby union.
The 36-year-old is delighted to see England performing well on the world stage anyway, but having a family connection to the team has only served to heighten those emotions.
"All of the family are very proud of him and all of the team," O'Loughlin said. "It's pretty special, being at a World Cup with it only coming around every four years, and just to see England getting there is great for rugby.
"It's good to see that, but obviously having a family connection there makes it even more special for us watching.
"From a family point of view, seeing him grow up and seeing him progress, I'm very proud of what he's achieved and the possibility he's going on to win a World Cup now."