The challenges of fatherhood have proved to be a welcome distraction for Owen Farrell.
Running after his two boys, Tommy, three, and Freddy, one, has provided him with a fresh perspective on life and rugby, and the England captain feels he is a better player for it.
“I think it’s helped me not dwell on things too much – that’s both good and bad,” said Farrell, who has been re-installed as permanent captain by new head coach Steve Borthwick for the Guinness Six Nations Championship.
“I guess with young kids you get on with what’s in front of you. That’s the way I want to be anyway. They definitely help with that.
“When you get into that dinner time, bath time, bedtime routine about five o’clock you’re in for it then – there’s no getting out of that!
“I’ve got two little lads that love running around, going to the park, anything. They love being outside.
“It’s hard to be anywhere else when you’re in their company. That’s a brilliant thing for me. I like playing golf although I’ve not got an official handicap – I don’t play enough to hand that many cards in.
“I don’t know if it’s more me or him, or I’m forcing it on him, but with my eldest [Tommy] I’m trying to get him to the driving range a little bit. He seems to like it, but I don’t know if that’s me just telling myself!”
The secret to successful parenting, they say, is all about creating boundaries too, and for Farrell one of his lines in the sand was when his eldest appeared with an Irish rugby jersey in a gesture of support for his grandfather, Andy, who as head coach has guided Ireland to No 1 in the world rankings.
“I asked him why he has got one,” said Farrell. “He said: ‘it’s grandad’s team’ and I said: ‘well, you can wear a suit like grandad does, then, not the kit.’
“They’re into anything and my dad also got them a Man City top which I’m not happy about as well. They’re also obsessed with Batman and Spiderman at the minute and were dressed up as them last week.
“Someone sent us a picture and said they looked like Del Boy and Rodney [from the famous scene in the BBC classic comedy Only Fools and Horses]!”
The exchange represented a welcome insight in the man behind the player. Farrell’s abrasive public image is far removed from those who know him best, and it is understood that the furore over his high tackle on Gloucester's Jack Clement that resulted in a three-match ban, upset him deeply.
While he speaks of his disappointment at missing last season’s Six Nations campaign because of successive ankle injuries, it provided him briefly with a moment to become an England fan. Like his father Andy (for Wigan Warriors), Farrell has been playing at professional level since he was a schoolboy.
“Obviously you’re gutted not to be involved but being with your family there are silver linings to being injured, as you’re around a lot more,” he adds.
“The amount of time you spend away from them can be hard. Another thing I enjoyed during that time was that I got to be a proper fan of England, and was on crutches and in a boot so couldn’t get around too well.
“I was sitting at home watching the games and enjoyed it even though I would’ve loved it more if I was involved and wished I was. I got people around to watch the games and watched it as a fan.”
Now 31, England supporters can expect to see a different version of the England captain who led Eddie Jones’s side for four years before Courtney Lawes last year became the chosen one.
“Hopefully [doing] the right thing in the right frame of mind at the right time,” he says when asked what sort of captain he is.
“Over the course of my career I’ve learned from some of the best. Whether that be on Lions tours – that third Test in New Zealand and seeing the way Sam Warburton was and seeing the way Johnny [Sexton] drives everything on the training field and demands from people. I can name a lot more.
“It’s about doing the right thing at the right time and drawing from that experience, whilst also trying to be yourself. Do I ever get nervous? It’s more nervous energy, excitement.
“We want to be clear about how we want to play first and foremost. The group has obviously got additions to it, people coming back and new caps that are excited to be part of the group for the first time. It’s making sure they’re comfortable as quickly as possible.
“There are a lot of leaders within the group that will take hold of different departments to make sure the team is as cohesive as it possibly can be; whether that be driving standards or just training well themselves; whether that be socially or getting people together. Whether that be organising things so people can get to know each other that little bit better. There’s a whole dynamic of leaders that do stuff in various ways. That will be a big part of what we do.”