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Andy Farrell: Nobody would be in this Ireland squad unless they're pushing for a Six Nations start

Ireland Six Nations squad good enough to improve on third place, says head coach

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Ireland coach Andy Farrell.

Ireland coach Andy Farrell.

PA

Captains’ call: Top row (L-R) Ireland’s Johnny Sexton, Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones and Italy’s Luca Bigi; Bottom row (L-R) Scotland Stuart Hogg, Charles Ollivon of France and England’s Owen Farrell at yesterday’s virtual launch of the Six Nations

Captains’ call: Top row (L-R) Ireland’s Johnny Sexton, Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones and Italy’s Luca Bigi; Bottom row (L-R) Scotland Stuart Hogg, Charles Ollivon of France and England’s Owen Farrell at yesterday’s virtual launch of the Six Nations

�INPHO/Guinness Six Nations

Ireland coach Andy Farrell

Ireland coach Andy Farrell

�INPHO/Guinness Six Nations

/

Ireland coach Andy Farrell.

Andy Farrell will surely be hoping his Guinness Six Nations campaign has fewer false starts than the morning he spent attending the tournament's digital launch yesterday.

A technical problem meant the Ire­land coach cut a bemused figure for much of the opening session as the experts struggled to unmute him. Eventually, he had to abandon ship and return later on with his micro­phone functioning normally.

Such is the way of the world we're living in.

Ireland welcomed their squad to their bio-bubble in Kildare yesterday. They will hope to make it through until March 20 without a glitch.

Once he found his voice, Farrell's enthusiasm for the 36 players he's been able to assemble at Carton House was palpable, and he is hoping competition for places will drive Ire­land on to another level in 2021.

His first year in charge was a dis­jointed one. While Ireland won their home matches, they lost to France and England twice on the road to fin­ish third in the Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup.

With Tadhg Furlong hoping to prove his fitness in Llanelli on Saturday, Johnny Sexton giving a positive update on his hamstring and even Joey Carbery looking like he might be fit in time to play a role later in the tournament, the signs are good that Farrell's squad can deliver.

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"It's a great squad. We're really pleased with it," he said.

"The Six Nations is a war of attri­tion and there are all sorts of things that can happen over the next eight weeks.

"Hopefully we stay fit and healthy and we all keep pushing forward."

Jacob Stockdale is the only mem­ber of the team that beat Scotland impressively last month unavailable for selection for the opening game against Wales on Sunday week.

Farrell, however, says he is open-minded when it comes to selection - and said the likes of in-form Rhys Ruddock is very much in the equa­tion.

"There are some people that are so important to a group, not just because of what the public or the media see at the weekend," he said.

"It's how they make people feel as well within the group on a daily basis, that adds to the environment - and Rhys is one of those people. He's a brilliant player in his own right, but obviously, just by being himself, it comes really natural to him that he's a leader of people.

"He's a great communicator, he has a great attitude and he's a great person, so those types of people are always infectious in any environ­ment.

"Rhys is in, really, because of his form. What I was talking about - in terms of his leadership and how he is making people feel - is one aspect of his game.

"However, he still needs to be able to perform and he certainly has been consistent in performing to a high level, so that's why he's in the group. Can he break through? Of course he can.

"Nobody would be in the squad unless they're going to push for a starting spot, and it's that competi­tion for places that's invaluable for any squad."

Ruddock is going for the No.6 slot currently occupied by CJ Stander after Peter O'Mahony switched to the openside in the autumn and played there in Munster's biggest recent games.

Another man enjoying a rich vein of form right now is Tadhg Beirne, who many believe is best suited to the blindside role at this level.

"As far as Tadhg is concerned, yeah, I suppose we'll assess how we go as regards the position. He's going pretty good, as we've seen in the autumn, as a loose forward or as we've seen him in recent times as a second-row," Farrell added.

Getting the selection right is one key element of Farrell's job. Preparing the team with the correct tactics to go out and win the game is another.

In their home games against Wales and Scotland, Ireland showed signs of real improvement in their attack­ing shape, but they struggled when they stepped up in class against pow­erful English and French teams.

Farrell said he wants improvements across the board but picked out a few key areas he wants to develop in tan­dem with a coaching team that now includes Paul O'Connell.

"From a defensive point of view, we have to be strong, we have to have proper intent in that," he said.

"From a set-piece point of view, we know how the game can function, unless that is of the highest order. That's a given, not just in an interna­tional team but in any team.

"And then the breakdown, both sides of the ball are absolutely crucial to give yourself chances to get down the other end and score points.

"On top of that, a good work-on for us is that, if all those are functioning at the highest that we want them to function, being clinical enough when the opportunities arise."

O'Connell's role won't stop at the lineout.

"The main remit for Paul to come into our environment is to make the group better," Farrell said.

"He's certainly going to add that just by being himself. On top of that, he's going to make the coaching staff stronger as well. We're an integrated coaching staff that bounce off each other.

"He'll work closely with John Fogarty on all aspects of forward play - and, obviously, along with that his remit is also to make sure he's across the whole game, because we like to be creative as we go as coaches as well."

After a disjointed first year in charge that led to a second successive third-placed finish, Farrell wants to see his team move from that middle tier to challenge the top two.

"Those two teams have played some really good rugby over the last two years and it's where we aspire to be," he said of England and France.

"How do we do that? By hitting the ground running today, Our next step is perform­ing in the big games under pressure. That's something we'll be addressing straight from the word go."

wales v ireland

Principality Stadium, Sunday, February 7

Belfast Telegraph


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