RFU confirms talks with Farrell

Last updated at 15:35 11 February 2005

Andy Farrell, Wigan and Great Britain's record-breaking captain, is poised to claim a place in history by becoming the first high-profile rugby league forward to make the switch to union.

The 29-year-old - a rugby league icon who has been an ever-present with Great Britain for the last 12 years - is in talks with the Rugby Football Union, it was officially confirmed today.

Farrell, who has two years left to run on his Wigan contract, is said to have been offered in excess of £200,000 a year to join his former team-mate Jason Robinson in the England set-up in time for the 2007 World Cup in France.

Although a number of high-profile players - most notably Robinson, Henry Paul and Iestyn Harris - have made the switch to the 15-man code since the game went professional in 1995, all of them have been backs.

The prospects of rugby league forwards changing codes has always appeared remote because of the complexities of the ruck and maul and the greater emphasis placed on the set-piece scrum and line-out.

Apart from Wigan's 1996 cross-code challenge with Bath and the Middlesex Sevens of the same year, Farrell has never played union - and he will be 32 by the time of the next World Cup.

Johnson replacement?

Even so, he is said to be tempted by the challenge - and England, impressed by his leadership qualities, see him as the man to fill the void following the retirement of Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio.

Today's announcement, issued through a joint statement by the RFU and Wigan, will send shockwaves through rugby league on the eve of the new Engage Super League season.

Farrell, awarded the OBE in the New Year's Honours for services to rugby league, has played for his home-town team since he was 16 - and he has captained his country in each of the last 29 Tests going back to 1996.

He has amassed more than 4,000 points in his career and won his 34th cap in the Tri-Nations Series final against Australia in November.

In the statement, both parties dismissed earlier rumours that Farrell's Wigan team-mate Kris Radlinski was also a target for England.

The statement said: "The Rugby Football Union and Wigan can confirm that discussions are taking place regarding the possible signing of Andrew Farrell.

"Although the talks have not been concluded and an agreement has not been reached, discussions are continuing - and all parties feel it is now the appropriate time to respond to the speculation surrounding them.

"The RFU and Wigan can confirm that Andrew Farrell is the only player under discussion.

"Any agreement will be subject to the approval of the two boards, Andrew Farrell, Premier Rugby Ltd and a Zurich Premiership club to contract the player with the RFU.

"The Wigan club are currently discussing the matter with Andrew Farrell, and no time frame can be given for any talks to be concluded."

Farrell, almost certainly expected to slot into the back row of the pack, will not be joining Robinson at Sale, whose chief executive Niels de Vos described links with them as "unfounded nonsense" - and a southern club is thought to be a more likely destination.

Wigan resigned

Wigan are resigned to losing their inspirational captain, and no attempt will be made by the governing body to keep him in the game.

Four years ago, the Rugby Football League established a fighting fund to top up the salaries of targeted players and managed to keep Radlinski and St Helens hooker Keiron Cunningham in the 13-man code.

An RFL spokesman confirmed the fund no longer exists.

"This can always happen in an open, free-market situation. But that said, we are very confident about rugby league and its position as a sport overall," he said.

If Farrell, who will miss the first three months of the new season after undergoing knee surgery, makes the switch at the end of the season he will almost certainly have played his last match for Britain.

That will pave the way for St Helens loose forward Paul Sculthorpe to take over the captaincy for the 2005 Tri-Nations, while Farrell could leave a family legacy at Wigan where brother-in-law Sean O'Loughlin is tipped as a future leader.