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Average is not acceptable at Ireland, warns Farrell ahead of Wales tie

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

We haven't seen Andy Farrell for quite a while, but evidence of his influence is all over the Irish performances so far.

He has been keeping a low profile since the Lions tour of New Zealand, a personal success for a defence coach whose methods garnered the respect of the locals and results for the tourists.

In November, he kept his head down as he returned to the day job and helped the team to a clean sweep, and over the course of the first few weeks of the Six Nations campaign he has been kept out of the public eye.

Yesterday, he stepped out of the shadows at the team base and delivered his message.

"Average is not acceptable" to Ireland, according to the former dual-code England international.

He was speaking about the fourth-quarter switch-off that saw his team concede three tries against Italy and his comments about the young players in the squad could easily have been construed as harsh.

"There are some young lads who haven't got vast amounts of experience and might have been getting carried away with themselves a little bit, but to knock off, to have a lack of intent in that last quarter was not acceptable," he said.

And yet he softened his tone as the afternoon media session went on - conveying the message that new faces must catch up to the more experienced players because this is an unforgiving environment in which to learn.

"It wasn't just the young players," he said of the last 20 minutes against the Azzurri that left him "fuming" despite the big win. "It is not the wrath at all, it is honesty. If I am not being honest with any player then I am doing them a disservice. Honesty to me is super positive whether you think it is negative or not or positive or not because it means that I care about the progress.

"And if something is not up to scratch and it is not good enough you be honest about that.

"I started the review of the meeting with the four tries we scored through the pressure from our defence, so it's not all bad.

"The last quarter is an example for me to say what's acceptable and what's not. Having said that, I think it puts us in a pretty good place.

"You learn through experiences. Good players, even if you are a rookie, tend to sort things out pretty quickly at this level, on the run, and we expect that."

Farrell has drawn huge praise for the improvements in Ireland's defensive game since he came on board, but it has not been perfect.

Teams will always manage a try or two, but Ireland have conceded three or more tries in nine of the 17 games he's been in charge of the rear-guard.

Admittedly, they've lost just five games during his time and he says the focus is not on the number of scores conceded but the scores themselves.

"I don't get wrapped up in tries at all," he said. "I get wrapped up in the reasons why. If it's a defensive error then I get wrapped up in that, but tries come in all shapes and forms. It could be from a poor exit, a poor line-out, a maul, a lucky kick. I take it all in context.

"I am using the example of the Italy game because we're 40 points up and we slackened off with our intent, and that's not what we're about, because I think we've shown some pretty good intent in previous games. The competition gets a whole lot tougher from here on in, and we will at the same time."

Conventional wisdom suggests that the selection of nine Scarlets players in the Wales starting XV means that the national team have adopted the region's way of playing instead, but Farrell strongly rejects that notion.

Having worked alongside Warren Gatland, Rob Howley and Neil Jenkins at close quarters last June, he believes the influence lies with the Welsh coaching set-up.

And he was keen to emphasise Howley's role - perhaps conscious of the lingering fall-out from Sean O'Brien's withering critique of the former Wasps scrum-half's coaching credentials.

"I'm not buying the Scarlet-ball," he said. "I'm buying the Rob Howley-ball because I think Rob made a statement after coming back from the Lions and playing a more expansive game with two pivot players. He's made that change and I think the lads are reaping the rewards.

"You analyse the last two games and if you think that is 100% how they are going to play you'd be absolutely stupid.

"Your systems, your game-plan, everything that is with you on that day has to be able to cope with the changing game.

"They have got a smile on their face the way they are playing. Their forwards are getting the ball through the hands quite a bit more. They are playing with tremendous width but the reason they are able to do that is because they are winning the gain line and getting quick ball.

"Things don't change. I have played against Wales plenty of times before and the main threat had been them playing through you and playing nice and tight and trying to keep hold of the ball and suck the life out of you.

"We will be ready for all of that."

Farrell will make sure of that.

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