Monday 24 October 2016

Ireland defensive coach Andy Farrell driven by chance at history

Defence coach relishing 'unbelievable opportunity' to take on All Blacks twice

Published 16/09/2016 | 02:30

Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell. Picture: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell. Picture: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Another tranche of Ireland front-liners return to action this weekend as the rugby season kicks slowly into gear.

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As they re-introduce their shoulders to collisions and their lungs to the pace of professional rugby, they'll have Soldier Field on their minds.

Whatever allure the opening rounds of the Guinness Pro12 and the Champions Cup possess, they can't hold a candle to taking on New Zealand in Chicago on November 5, and every Saturday morning comes a reminder from the Rugby Championship of how big the task that awaits is.

While the players have the rough and tumble of provincial operations to occupy their minds, the Ireland coaching staff have no such distractions and since they returned from their post-summer tour holidays, the All Blacks have been top of the agenda.

They gathered the players together to review the series defeat to South Africa earlier this month and will meet again in October to ramp up preparations for facing the world champions.

For those hoping to make Warren Gatland's Lions squad there is an opportunity to impress, but you get the feeling that won't be used as the primary motivation. When you're handed the chance to be part of the first Ireland team to beat the All Blacks, there's not much more to be said.

Given Joe Schmidt's side have two bites at the All Black cherry, with Steve Hansen's team coming to Dublin two weeks after the Chicago date, there is plenty for the coaching team to get their teeth into.

"The day job is to make history for Ireland and that's what everyone is working towards," defence coach Andy Farrell said yesterday.

"We've got an unbelievable opportunity to go to such a special occasion in Chicago first up and hopefully we can give a good account of ourselves.

"It's the first game of our season. It's going to be interesting and on the back of that we play Australia.

"These sides in the southern hemisphere, they have probably played seven or eight games coming into the autumn series. It's going to be tough old task but something has to whet the appetite of any coach or player."

Although his side won't meet New Zealand until 2018 at the earliest, England coach Eddie Jones has already thrown a couple of his verbal grenades in Hansen's direction and the most relevant one for Ireland is that he believes that there are "flaws and significant weaknesses" in the All Blacks' armoury.

Argentina showed glimpses of what could be achieved with a direct, abrasive and quick-rucking approach last Saturday, but they lacked the accuracy to go with it and ended up losing 57-22.

"Any team on any given day could be vulnerable," is Farrell's take.

"All you can do is prepare your side of it as best you can to make them believe and be confident enough to go and give the performance of their life.

"And everyone knows in world sport now that the All Blacks are at the top of the sporting world, aren't they? It's not just rugby.

"You do have to be on song but you want as many possibilities to have a crack at that as possible. Why? Because you learn and you keep getting better."

The 2-1 series loss to South Africa is a bittersweet memory for the Ireland camp, who made history in the first Test by beating the Springboks away for the first time, with 14 men to boot, but then squandered strong positions to win the second and third Tests.

They travelled over without a host of big names including Johnny Sexton and gave debuts to four players over the course of the three games, but still took the series to the final play of the final game and left with regrets.

Having come in before the tour and put defensive systems in place for three Tests against one team, Farrell must now expand the system to face the most multi-faceted attack in world rugby.

"You have to build," he said of his approach. "You can't go in gung-ho, because if you try to put too much detail on things then the team don't understand.

"One of the main points is you have to make sure there is clarity. If there are two or three points that you want to see from your side, they have to know what those two or three points are. The detail is so vast that if you try to run before you can walk, you end up standing for nothing so we have to bed into ourselves."

The main thing Farrell wants to see from the team over the course of the next 12 months is progress.

"Progression, that's got to be the key word," said the 41-year-old, who was speaking at the launch of Huddle Dublin which takes place at the Aviva Stadium on September 29.

"We made a good progression insofar as we took some guys who had never been in a Test match before, never mind been in a three-Test match arena in a situation where we'd never won in South Africa before.

"So, there was a step in the right direction there but hopefully what we have created through that tour is big competition for places because we've whetted some appetites. The guys who were watching at home, we've had a camp since and you can see that there, they were desperate to get out there and know what went on and why.

"They're as keen as mustard and hopefully over the course of this year, because of that, we grow the group and therefore we grow the performance on the back of it."

Over the next 12 months, he will have plenty of opportunities to shape Ireland's defence - he will also come face to face with his son Owen and his old England colleagues on the final day of the Six Nations.

That clash will draw plenty of outside interest, but Farrell is not entertaining the idea that it will be different to any other day at the office.

"It's as professional as it gets," he said. "I've got a job to do and one of my jobs will be to stop England's attack during the Six Nations and you don't leave any stone unturned, especially when it's the last game of the Six Nations and hopefully there's something riding on it."

Irish Independent

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