"I didn’t think I’d get along with him so well" - Bundee Aki, Owen Farrell and a Lions bromance
Paul O'Connell knew the score.
There is a famous clip from the 2013 British & Irish Lions documentary from their tour to Australia. During a warm-up game against the Barbarians, O'Connell looked at Owen Farrell and said:
"I think it’s funny that one of the youngest guys on the team, Owen Farrell, is the one that’s driving everyone on.
"The guy is 22 years of age, barking at everyone, driving everyone around the pitch. We should all be doing it."
Former Wales and Lions star Adam Jones also spoke, recently, about how Farrell is the standards driver in the England camp.
"I was lucky enough to attend an England training, a couple of years ago," he told House of Rugby. "I couldn't get over him.
"I watched him in that training session and he was unbelievable. Whoever it was that messed up, or was ill-disciplined, he was straight into them; eye-balling them. Even some of those tough forwards that are in the England pack at the moment... he'd be eye-balling them and giving them a bollocking. And they wouldn't react [badly]. He was held in that much esteem."
Farrell has been at the top of the world game for a decade now and Warren Gatland is a big fan. Even though his form for England was not great, in 2021, and Saracens were in the Championship, Gatland brought Farrell along for his third Lions tour.
Even though Farrell only made the bench for the first two Tests against South Africa, he has again been a key figure in getting the tourists ready and competitive for a tilt at the world champions. He misses out, this weekend, though as Finn Russell makes the bench as back-up outhalf.
During his media activity ahead of the Third Test, Bundee Aki spoke about the bond he has formed, on tour, with the England captain.
Many pundits felt Owen Farrell was destined to get the No.12 jersey for the series-deciding Third Test against the Springboks, but Gatland has gone for Aki.
Asked about their budding friendship on the tour, Aki joked, "I think a lot of my videos on Instagram are me beating him at FIFA and he doesn’t like it.
"Honestly, I’ve learnt so much off that guy. I didn’t think I’d get along with him so well. Obviously you only know him from across the pitch, you only know him when you’re playing against him.
"But the standards he’s been doing when I’m not selected, and the way he’s been approaching me as a person and as a player, he’s literally hanging around with us every single day, which is cool, because you don’t see that side of him.
"He’s a great bloke to have around, I’ve learnt so much off him. Like I said, I have enjoyed my time being here."
Some rugby fans were surprised when Gatland revealed, earlier in the tour, how Farrell had topped the polls when the whole squad was asked to nominate players for their leadership group.
If that heavy Farrell vote did not convince you what a key squad member he is, take O'Connell, Jones and Aki's word for it, too.