Monday 21 October 2019

Farrell insists England loss has 'sharpened focus' for task ahead

Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Andy Farrell wouldn't be human if he wasn't thinking about what lies ahead for him in the coming months.

Ireland's defence coach has enough on his plate in Japan to keep him occupied, but even still, it must be impossible to ignore the fact that in the not-too-distant future, he will stepping into his first head coach role.

The enormity of replacing Joe Schmidt is obvious and it will be fascinating to observe how much of the Kiwi Farrell will model himself on. He is his own man, however, and will be eager to put his own stamp on things when the time comes.

Schmidt's recent revelation that he plans to remain in Dublin rather than return to New Zealand when his contract with the IRFU expires after the World Cup is interesting as his presence will certainly still be felt in the country when Farrell steps into the hot seat. The English man already plays an extremely significant role within the squad, and while he insists that he is not thinking about what the future holds, his mind must sometimes wonder.

"Definitely not, no," Farrell says. "That's one thing that will never happen. I wouldn't be true to the players and I certainly wouldn't be true to myself if I wasn't being myself and that won't change, 100 per cent.

"Do I look into the future? Obviously there are plans that have to be, it would be stupid not to do a bit of planning for the future.

"That's what everyone does. But honestly, if you ask me about the future, I'm not even thinking about Japan that much at this moment in time and that's a six-day turnaround. It's been full-on for this game and that's the way it will stay."

Given how much of a threat Scotland will pose on Sunday, Farrell cannot afford to be anything other than utterly concentrated on how his defence is going to nullify the threat of Gregor Townsend's men.

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For all of the improvements that Ireland have made since, the manner of the defeat to England last month still serves as a major warning of what can happen when the defensive system collapses.

The players are fully aware that their moment to shine on the world stage is fast approaching, but Farrell warned that they must strike the right balance in terms of sticking to the game-plan.

"I always think that desperation is a disease, really, because it makes you make bad decisions along the way," he maintains. "And that's what experience gives you - to make sure that you're focused in the right way and that's why I say cautiously that we are building. We don't want to reach boiling point on Wednesday or Friday. We've got experienced players - not just the older guys. We've got 24-, 25-, 26-year-olds who are pretty experienced at this level now as well. They know what it takes to build through a week."

Ireland have been caught too narrow too many times for the coaching staff's liking and against Stuart Hogg and Co, if they show any weakness in that regard, Scotland have the backs to punish them.

Jacob Stockdale was made a scapegoat during the defeat to England and while his defensive display wasn't without its flaws, the system inside him misfired. So, how do Ireland avoid the same thing happening again?

"Well, win the collisions first and foremost," Farrell explains. "If you win the collisions you can slow the ball down a little bit. It helps that fold, doesn't it? The speed with which we work at. It's not all going to be perfect and you might say, 'Ah, the Irish defence is short of numbers.' But it's still got to be able to deal with it accordingly.

"It's not all a perfect picture and we've got to be able to adapt to what's in front of us, not just what's in front of us from the Scottish point of view but what we've actually got as well and I feel like we're heading in the right direction with that.

"Sometimes you can be very prescriptive with set-piece and that's where analysis sometimes gets in the way because you can actually say that things could be perceived as being black and white, and they're not always, you know?

"A little bit of feel, and hopefully what happened that week has sharpened the focus. It's certainly, from my point of view, done that as far their attitude on and off the field since then. So hopefully that will stand us in good stead throughout this competition."

World Rugby's new laws around the tackle area has also meant that Farrell is working overtime with his players to ensure that they adhere to the rules and tackle low.

"Not for one second do we work on high tackle technique," Farrell added. "If one of our lads gets it wrong, they know the consequences of that. But our lads wouldn't be seeking contact like that. I do feel that a lot of times if you are promoting a very low focus, if people get their head down, you become a sitting target for the attack and that's a dangerous place to be. You are in a vulnerable place as well.

"I do think that needs to be looked at certainly. You can't just change player welfare on the fact that you need to lower the tackle."

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