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Andy Farrell: Continuity is exactly what Ireland need right now


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Taking aim: Robbie Henshaw lines up a tackle in Ireland training at their base at Abbotstown

Taking aim: Robbie Henshaw lines up a tackle in Ireland training at their base at Abbotstown

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Taking aim: Robbie Henshaw lines up a tackle in Ireland training at their base at Abbotstown

There was a time last Saturday - for minutes four through to 40 - that the team on the field for Ireland in the first game of their Six Nations was virtually the same 15 that had played in the first match of their World Cup campaign some four months prior.

Indeed, the only player who hadn't played his part out in Yokohama was Rob Herring, who has taken the place of the now retired Rory Best. While the early removal of Caelan Doris had obviously robbed new head coach Andy Farrell of one fresh face, it should come as no surprise that when he confirmed his team to face Wales in Dublin this Saturday (2.15pm kick-off), continuity was again king.

Farrell made just two changes to the side that battled past Scotland, bringing a pair of British and Irish Lions, who both saw sizeable time from the bench in round one, into the starting side.

With Peter O'Mahony replacing Doris and Robbie Henshaw coming in for Garry Ringrose, Farrell's second selection has a more familiar feel than ever.

The Six Nations, he seems to be reminding us, is no place for experimentation. For all the clamour to begin a new era for Irish rugby in the wake of Joe Schmidt's hugely successful tenure, changes at this juncture are largely being limited to approach rather than personnel. With the presumed bigger challenge of Wales, Farrell defended his choices.

"We don't just do it (selection) in 10 minutes, selection always has its ups and downs," he said on Tuesday. "We have a good team with continuity. It is the right team to represent our group against Wales.

"They are Grand Slam champions and semi-finalists at the World Cup and, rightly so, they have been talked up as a great team. We know what is coming this week and we get excited by that as well.

"Training was quick, it was intense, it was ferocious. We had a few things to fix as well and we'll make sure we do that.

"We're in a good place, we're brimming, ready for what we know is going to be a really, really tough game."

With Wales also adjusting to a new head coach following on from a decorated predecessor - former Scarlets boss Wayne Pivac replaced Warren Gatland after the World Cup - they made considerably lighter work of their Championship opener.

Aided in no small part by agreeable opposition, Wales were able to run riot without ever really hitting their full stride, eventually racking up a 42-0 win over Italy highlighted by a Josh Adams hat-trick.

"I thought they were great," added Farrell. "I think everyone is getting carried away with the wide, expansive game that they play.

"It's great to watch, and they are doing it really well, but the same old traditions that we have seen under Warren are still there.

"Their kicking game is excellent, their chase and line speed are good, their width across the field defensively is good and they are clinical in the opposition 22.

"They are great at carrying the ball, and if you throw in some great individual players then they have a great team."

While the perception of these two teams and how they performed last weekend varies wildly, Farrell believes Scotland aren't getting credit for their role in how Ireland appeared.

"I've not seen Scotland play like that for some time," he said. "They were ferocious in all sorts of contact within the game, I thought their set-piece was absolutely excellent.

"They'll be deeply disappointed, I would have thought, because they threw everything at us in that game. So they have a lot to do with it and we've got to manage that type of situation better as well. We will do this weekend."

For all the faith he has put in the rugby CVs of Ireland's past performers, the new coach still looks set to hand out a third new cap in his second game.

After his Leinster team-mates Ronan Kelleher and Doris made their bow against Scotland, back-rower Max Deegan is named on the bench, with the unfortunate Doris dropping from the matchday squad altogether after his second head injury of the season.

It should come as no surprise that Deegan, like Kelleher, is a St Michael's alumnus, following in the recent footsteps of James Ryan, Luke McGrath and Dan Leavy among others.

The latest, too, to come from Ireland's Under-20 side that reached a World Cup final in 2016, it is worth remembering that for all the talent in that age group - Ryan, Jacob Stockdale and Andrew Porter - it was Deegan who got the nomination for World Young Player of the Year following the tournament.

His path to the Test arena has taken a little longer than that trio, as well as his former Wanderers minis team-mate Jordan Larmour, but he has already made 60 appearances for Leinster and has had an intriguing battle with Doris for game time this season.

"He's got all the attributes of a great back-rower," said Farrell. "You go into the unknown a little bit with international rugby but we feel he is ready with his ball-playing ability, his spatial awareness coming onto the ball and using his footwork.

"He's got nice soft hands at the same time. He's got good leg drive in his carry. He's a great all-round footballer and we think he will add a dimension to us, especially in attack off the bench."

Cian Healy, now an elder statesman at the RDS at 32-years-old, is thrilled to see the next crop of senior internationals emerging from the Guinness PRO14 champions.

"He wouldn't be put in if he wasn't ready," said the loosehead prop, who could be backed up by Dave Kilcoyne or Jack McGrath on Saturday depending on whether the former comes through his return to play protocols. "There's a lot of lads in those positions that are pushing each other around looking for shots and they have all gotten to the place where they are vying for that, so it's great to see him getting a shot.

"It's unfortunate that Caelan had to sit out with his knock but I'm sure Max will be ready to go and looking forward to that opportunity.

"It's something that he's trained for, for an awfully long time, with it being a dream of his to get here."

Ireland team to play Wales at Aviva Stadium (Saturday 2.15pm): J Larmour (Leinster); A Conway (Munster), R Henshaw (Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), J Stockdale (Ulster); J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Herring (Ulster), T Furlong (Leinster); I Henderson (Ulster), J Ryan (Leinster); P O'Mahony (Munster), J van der Flier (Leinster), CJ Stander (Munster).

Replacements: R Kelleher (Leinster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), A Porter (Leinster), D Toner (Leinster), M Deegan (Leinster), J Cooney (Ulster), R Byrne (Leinster), K Earls (Munster).

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