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'Is our goal the Six Nations or to get over a quarter-final?' - Andy Farrell facing into 2020 dilemma

 

As the 2019 Rugby World Cup gears up for a semi-final weekend that had been mooted as a milestone for the national team, Irish eyes instead are already looking towards a changing future.

The manager and captain have departed the stage, after the latest quarter-final defeat sparked yet another post-mortem on how best Ireland can look to get past what has become a psychological barrier 32 years in the making.

That responsibility will next fall on incoming head coach Andy Farrell, who in some eyes is already hampered by his involvement as part of Joe Schmidt’s backroom staff this time out.

Yet with some pundits advocating taking the long view and looking four years down the line, former Ireland team-mates Fergus McFadden and Luke Fitzgerald believe it’s not that simple for Farrell.

"With him taking over as head coach now, I’m sure he’ll just want to draw a line in the sand," McFadden said, speaking on The Left Wing, Independent.ie’s rugby podcast in association with Aldi.

"The attack shape he’s going to bring will inevitably be different. The backroom staff he’s going to bring in alongside him will obviously define what way the team is going to go on a defensive and attacking front.

"He’s been backed now as the head coach and going towards 2023, there’s so many good players in this country at the moment coming through on all four teams in the provinces that you’d like to think we’ll have a great chance by that time that comes around.

"But the Six Nations does come and a lot of the Irish public won’t look through binoculars and go ‘we’re going towards this point down the line to try and build towards 2023’. People want to see wins and buy tickets to go to the Aviva during the Six Nations to see good performances and wins. It is a tricky one to get right.

"I’ve no doubt that he will probably clear a couple of guys out that have been there a long time. Obviously the likes of Rory (Best) is finishing up but you just don’t know what way he’s going to go otherwise. He might try a load of new guys or he might mix and match but I can’t see him going with a similar team to what played the last day. It’s going to be a much-changed side, you’d imagine."

The fact that Farrell’s first game will be the Six Nations opener against Scotland at the Aviva on February 1st means the new boss will have to hit the ground running.

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After all, it’s in that competition where Ireland’s recent triumphs have built what many thought would be the platform for successful World Cups attempts in 2011, 2015 and this year, but while Fitzgerald considers a change in approach may be needed to break the World Cup cycle of failure, he also believes that that any radical change in personnel will have to wait.

"I think those changes are going to be enforced. I wonder is this the area where we need to improve?," he added.

"You’re always going to say things like we can’t sacrifice the team or the results completely and financially the Six Nations is extremely important to the IRFU. They need to perform well there, all that money funnels down for the future of the game.

"But at some point, we have to say ‘what’s our goal here?' Is it to maintain a certain standard in the Six Nations or is it to try and get over this hurdle of the World Cup quarter-final? They’ve got to make a call on that at some stage.

"Do you start off in the Six Nations and go ‘right, complete overhaul, who can’t make it to the World Cup?’ These are the questions you have to ask.

"Johnny Sexton is by far our best 10 and best player. We don’t know if he’ll be at the next World Cup. He’s talking about it but it’s unlikely.

"What decision are they making? Are they going to do this now, anyone who can’t make it to the next World Cup we’re not going to consider you? I don’t think we can, we’re too small to do that."

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