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Brendan Fanning: 'Coach left with as many questions as answers'

Brendan Fanning


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Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile

Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile

It is unique for a Six Nations opener to be framed in a 'Star player storms off in boozy bust-up' setting, but that's what we got with Finn Russell and Gregor Townsend in the build-up to Lansdowne Road yesterday. If Andy Farrell had slipped on his barman's waistcoat and pulled the pints himself, it could hardly have worked out better.

Handed back-to-back home games to open his account as Ireland head coach - neither of which, thankfully, involve England - he then got an extra helping with the outbreak of hostilities in Tent Townsend. Peace there will be hard come-by. Not Farrell's concern.

What occupied the mind of the new Ireland coach was how he could play this for his benefit. Into the gap stepped Adam Hastings, the man with the Hollywood smile. This was his first start in the Six Nations. We remember him in Cardiff two years ago, a makey-up sort of Test match outside the international window. It was his fourth cap, and a first start outside of a tour match. The Red Wall wrapped from the outside-in, shutting down his vision of the periphery so fast he had nowhere to go. Neither had the Scots. Wales were 34-0 going into the 78th minute.

To a dedicated preacher of hard-ass defence like Farrell, this must have presented itself as a script already written, edited and jumping off the page. Shut down the passing lanes. Get after Hastings. Get it done early and the television director will be cutting to shots of Townsend in the coaches' box looking, well, unhappy.

We put a clock yesterday on how long it would take Ireland to course the Hastings hare into position. And get their teeth into him. By the time five minutes had elapsed Hastings had handled the ball maybe 10/12 times. He looked like he was having a whale of a time. Scotland were playing with width and pace and Ireland's defence couldn't get off the line fast enough to get near him.

This is not to say that the director couldn't get a clean shot on Gregor Townsend in the box. And sure enough, the coach looked like he had just patted his back pocket to discover his wallet was gone. The source of his pain was not Adam Hastings, but captain Stuart Hogg. Townsend said that he didn't put a value on mistakes, as in a dropped pass on the 22 is an error in the same way as a ball dropped going over the line. Hmm. It was a humongous clanger.

"It was great for us, wasn't it," Farrell said afterwards.

Yes, it was. Less than great was the way Ireland attacked. They were more ruthless than Scotland when it came to the last quarter of the field, and the clever wraparound from Conor Murray, and hard line from Jordan Larmour that opened the door for Johnny Sexton's try, was top notch. Otherwise they really struggled for quick ball - quick enough to put the Scots under so much pressure that mismatches would open up. And when those scenarios were not presenting themselves, players started forcing stuff. When that goes wrong you regularly end up discussing it from behind your own posts.

We wouldn't put the Larmour lapse, stepping on the touchline when trying to counter from his own 22 along with Andrew Conway, into that category. It was a straightforward two-versus-one and, had it come off, Larmour wouldn't be able to see his own feet for the garlands laid by fans and reporters alike. It was the right play, poorly executed.

Farrell will be asking for patience, that his team won't be able to have a complete makeover in a matter of weeks. They don't need a complete makeover, but they could start by stealing some of what Scotland can do with their phase play and marry it to Ireland's better finishing power. A week isn't a long time to move this along too far, but neither is it reinventing the wheel.

At least Farrell doesn't have the issues Townsend still faces when he gets back home. For the Scotland coach, three possibilities presented themselves yesterday: 1) Scotland get their backsides kicked in the now traditional manner of this fixture; 2) Scotland the Brave push bordering-on-arrogant Ireland all the way to the finish line; 3) Scotland make a minutely small number of punters very happy with the scale of their win.

Adam Hastings had a fine game yesterday but the problem hasn't gone away. For the first two of the above options Townsend would still be toast with those who see him as the problem in Finngate. And even for the third there would still be a hole where Finn Russsell is supposed to be.

How would Ireland have handled such a crisis - which is exactly what it is in a country with such sparse resources? You'd like to think it wouldn't have happened in the first place, but neither - when you look around the Ireland management team - do you see men with much experience of thorny problems at the top end. To that end, dialling up former manager Mick Kearney - seemingly on a consultancy basis - makes eminent sense. There are lots of bases to be covered. Like Andy Farrell, he'll have his hands full.

Sunday Indo Sport