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David Kelly: Andy Farrell to combine best of Joe Schmidt era with his own ideas in search for success

Andy Farrell
Andy Farrell
David Kelly

By David Kelly

The last time Andy Farrell was subject to a World Cup review, he lost his job. Four years on, another review, another country but a different outcome.

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While England weren't slow in cutting him loose in 2015, Ireland had already outlined a succession plan which remained rock solid despite the IRFU's carefully calibrated, albeit not independent, review.

And so Farrell emerges as the pre-determined sole man in charge, inheriting either a poisoned chalice or an opportunistically timed promotion, depending on how one's assessment of Joe Schmidt's reign is skewed.

Many unfairly have alighted upon a dismal final year as opposed to the glory days which preceded them but, whatever one's perspective, there is unanimity that the Schmidt era is over.

The question remains as to what particular signature of authority Farrell will seek to introduce to a squad who had become so used to the Kiwi's often autocratic, technical style of coaching which, predominantly, translated into a brutally efficient winning machine for much of his reign.

The Englishman and his 45-man squad dispersed for the holidays yesterday after he faced the media for the first time. He gave little away but there were hints as to the nature of change which may occur in 2020.

However, the emphasis will primarily be about evolution, not revolution. As he asserted, the World Cup review - despite its obvious flaws - threw up many more positives than negatives.

Farrell will naturally seek Schmidt's counsel, it would be foolish not to. But he will be his own man.

A father at 16, England Rugby League captain at 17, this rugged son of working-class Lancashire has always followed his instinct, first as a player and then as a coach, whatever code of oval ball.

"I can only be myself," he says. "I want to be upfront with you guys and the players. I'm not clever enough to lie to myself. I want to be honest.

"I've always wanted to be a coach because I knew my point of difference would have been galvanising the team."

Farrell is likely to be much more empathetic than his predecessor, and that might allow him to be more democratic too. He will rely on key personnel but not in an over-arching manner. The last thing he wants is his voice to be permeating a player's head when they take to the field.

"I've been speaking to Johnny Sexton over the last couple of weeks and he's well on board with how we want to push forward. No team should be reliant on anyone."

He dead-batted the topic of captaincy, and while his choice may be instructive, it will not necessarily be wholly illustrative of what his reign will be like.

He does not abhor transition, a term often used to announce change yet also occasionally to disguise inertia.

He wants to win and does not believe that the emphasis on one particular style of play should detract from that quest.

Like any coach, though, he will seek an identity for his side, something that marks him - and them - out from the version which preceded it.

"We've got to make sure we stand for something, and hopefully that will be clear and obvious to everyone, really, without trying to progress too early on most things and standing for nothing.

"We'll evolve our attack along the way, and that will probably be a longer process."

He did make one point about style which counters his employer's narrative about skill levels in Ireland.

"We've got skilful players, we've got smart rugby players and we've got players who have got a lot more in them to give. We want to be able to adapt to the game in front of us."

This is what Ireland palpably failed to do in the last year of his time as assistant to Schmidt. Now he is free to allow his players to be free too.

Ironically, England's players criticised him for not doing so four years ago; the lesson will have been absorbed.

"I can be immersed in the detail, but hopefully I don't get that immersed in the detail that it clouds me from what we want to stand for."

Ireland weren't ready for their new HQ in the summer - or the World Cup.

A new home, and a new coach, demands a new beginning.

Belfast Telegraph


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