Saturday 19 August 2017

Andy Farrell's parting message to Lions players was a simple one

Andy Farrell enjoying the sunshine at Carton House yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Andy Farrell enjoying the sunshine at Carton House yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Andy Farrell spent yesterday taking the Lions out of their comfort zone in an attempt to see how they would respond. He was impressed by what he saw.

Later, he came and did a press conference at the other end of the Carton House complex the Lions have called their home for the past week, and just for a second he was taken beyond his own.

A professional of long standing, he is rarely ruffled at these gigs but the suggestion that Ireland's defence had gotten off to a "rocky start" in the Six Nations caused him to bristle, take a pause and furrow his brow from before the moment passed.

He talked about how the Irish players had responded through the Six Nations and how that ability to think on your feet and adapt to circumstance is key to success next month when the Lions go south.

Yesterday, they parted company for the weekend, and when they come together on Sunday and fly to New Zealand on Monday the real business will be underway.

Farrell's parting message to the players was a simple one.

"There's been a lot of work done. You make sure that that's ingrained in you," he said.

"You don't come back on Sunday having not done your revision and having to go back over things.

"We have to keep hitting the ground running and moving on to a different level every single time we meet up.

Take stock of what we've done, how can you grab hold of it and make it instinctive and how can you make it better next week? On top of that, make sure your choir practice is up to speed."

The last reference is with regard to the Lions' decision to sing at a welcome ceremony on Sunday week, but Farrell's focus is on getting the defence operating off the same hymn-sheet on arrival ahead of their first game against the Provincial Barbarians tomorrow week.

Gelling together these players is a real coaching challenge and perhaps no unit coach has a tougher task than the defence guru. Asking him for a detailed run-through of his system is fruitless, he likes to keep his cards close to his chest.

But ask him if fans need to be patient with his team as they adapt to each other and those systems, he disagrees; nor does he want people getting too carried away if things click.

"I ain't saying that we're not going to hit the ground running, you'd hope for that, but even if we have a great performance and everybody says 'whoa, the Lions have shown great skill, speed and tenacity throughout those first couple of games...' There's always going to be stuff we need to work on and improve upon and get through anyway," he said.

"It certainly happens when a team has been together a long time, never mind when it's been together for 10 days.

"You're talking about world-class players here who can adapt and change to whatever is thrown their way and they'll be comfortable doing that.

"Let's not forget, Warren (Gatland) has said the whole way through until this point that this is what Lions tours are about, that everyone will get a chance.

"Like any team within a series, you're not always going to show your hand. We have to get the basics right of our game and see what we stand for a little bit.

"As far as tactics and how we change things around, that'll change from game to game."

Although they still haven't managed to assemble their full complement of players given the small matter of the Premiership and Guinness PRO12 finals this weekend, Farrell is confident that the players will catch up.

"The 14 guys who were in last week have helped the new guys who are coming in because they have got a head-start," he said.

"The more of those guys you've got, we've got 30 of them… when we get the next 11 to follow I expect that to be a lot easier than it has been over the last couple of weeks because this is the type of quality that we've got.

"They're all leaders, they all know what they want to make their game a lot easier and that's making sure that everyone's on the same page.

"We'll be watching (the finals) and we wish them all the best. We hope they get stuck in and give a great account of themselves.

"We've got our fingers crossed that they stay fit and healthy and get on the plane, that's what we want; we want everybody on that plane."

Irish Independent

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