Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby World Cup

Farrell has plenty to ponder in his in tray


New boss Andy Farrell has a big job ahead
New boss Andy Farrell has a big job ahead
Warm welcome: Outgoing Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt signs Jennifer Malone’s shirt as the squad returned from the World Cup
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Ireland's World Cup squad arrived back into Dublin yesterday, sure to soon go their separate ways for a break and attempt at clearing their heads before the long slog of a provincial season begins.

Rugby round up Newsletter

Game previews, plus expert insights and exclusive commentary from the Belfast Telegraph sports team.

It'll be Christmas before they're back together as a group, their traditional festive camp preceding a Six Nations that begins with a pair of home games against Scotland and Wales. By then, the Andy Farrell era will have well and truly begun.

As the side look to move beyond another quarter-final exit - one in which Farrell's own role will obviously lessen the likelihood of complete overhaul - there are plenty of big decisions looming for the first-time head coach.

Best man to replace Rory

By now, Rory Best has returned to civilian life. Part of the squad since 2005, and their starting hooker for a decade, it's been almost four years since Joe Schmidt selected him to be his second skipper in succession of Paul O'Connell.

The Ulsterman enjoyed some great days with the armband, a host of history-making firsts in the role seeing him go down as the nation's most successful captain. Throughout his tenure, Best consistently spoke of a leadership group.

His vice-captains Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony are the obvious choices, Sexton having filled in against Russia while O'Mahony has the prestige of skippering a Lions side two years ago.

Sign In

Neither, though, are likely to be around for the next World Cup. If today really is the first day building towards France in 2023, a captain to be here for the long haul is something to be considered.

James Ryan is an Ireland captain in waiting, and appears to have become more and more vocal since winning his first cap when in Japan during the summer of 2017.

The Leinster lock is hardly an experienced candidate but was entrusted to represent the national side before he'd ever even played for his province - if there was no fear then of fast-tracking him, then why now?

Futures of elder statesmen

While Ryan's selection as skipper would bring continuity to the cycle, Ireland work under a different rugby landscape to the likes of the southern hemisphere teams.

Australia, for example, are like Ireland, losing their coach and captain having been thumped in a World Cup quarter-final.

When they next gather themselves together there will be considerable change beyond that too, with a host of senior figures heading for contracts overseas in moves that will preclude them from involvement for the Wallabies.

Ireland, who have successfully combated the threatened player drain, can still call upon their entire World Cup panel, with the exception, of course, of Best.

Already there have been calls for Farrell to dispose of those whose age will likely see them retire before the next tournament rolls around, but the Six Nations is the financial driver behind the game on this island while, when it comes to maintaining his own job security, the new coach will hardly be pushing the agenda of short-term pain for long-term gain.

Sexton, O'Mahony, Conor Murray et al will be picked for Six Nations duty for as long as they give Ireland the best chance of beating their northern hemisphere rivals. Such players are also centrally contracted in Ireland, so their wages, considerable ones at that, are paid by the IRFU. To have them simply playing for their provinces and not the national side wouldn't be the best business either.

Sniffing out new blood

When it comes to the player pool, Ireland went to Japan with what was said to be their deepest ever 31-man squad. There were some high-profile omissions for the likes of Devin Toner and Jack McGrath, but beyond them it's not as if there was a host of young players looking ready to oust the established names.

While there will certainly be huge changes in key personnel over the next number of seasons, more so certainly than we witnessed in the past cycle, the successors aren't immediately apparent.

James Lowe, the Leinster wing who qualifies through residency in 2020, is an obvious exception, Ulster's Will Addison, who has been undone by injuries, another but, while the likes of Michael Lowry, James Hume and Eric O'Sullivan in Ulster, Leinster's Ronan Kelleher, Scott Penny and Max Deegan, Connacht's Dylan Tierney-Martin and Fineen Wycherly of Munster are among a host of youngsters with Test potential, none you would say are going to be thrust into the unforgiving world of a Six Nations in the next few months.

How Farrell generates some sort of freshness in the short-term will be fascinating to see play out.

Expand upon Ireland's style

Ireland's style under Joe Schmidt has become the topic of so much discussion during his six years in charge of the national side.

Having experienced unprecedented success with a pragmatic brand of rugby, few in this part of the world have complained when things go well. Schmidt's sides could be wholly entertaining too, their inventiveness off strike moves just one example, but as two-time World Cup winner Sam Whitelock noted yesterday, the best sides have more than one way to play.

There have been times, usually when their accuracy falls away a touch, that Ireland can feel one-dimensional against the top teams in the world and there's going to be a real focus on whether Farrell takes his foot off the break now that he's in the driving seat.

With the former defence coach - an area, of course, where Ireland haven't been without cause for criticism over the past 12 months - at the helm, those looking for signs of a more expansive game will have their eyes trained firmly on Mike Catt.

Coming in from Italy, where results were hardly the best gauge or platform for attacking freedom, the move from Schmidt's ideas with ball in hand to Catt's are sure to be one of the most talked about of Ireland's next season.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph