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Farrell hails ‘sponge’ Casey as he backs Sexton to remain a key part of his plans

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Andy Farell has backed Sexton

Andy Farell has backed Sexton

Andy Farell has backed Sexton

Craig Casey thought he was going to make his Ireland debut against France two weeks ago, but his response to not getting a run off the bench has only raised him higher in his coach's esteem.

On Saturday, the 21-year-old Limerickman is almost certain to play for his country for the first time against Italy in Rome.

Conor Murray has not recovered from the hamstring injury he suffered in training and rather than go to one of the experienced scrum-halves available like John Cooney, Luke McGrath and Kieran Marmion, Andy Farrell has stuck with the Munster man as back-up to Jamison Gibson-Park.

Despite not getting a minute against the French, Casey went back to his province and put in a strong performance against Edinburgh last weekend.

Farrell was impressed by what he saw.

"He's been great, he's like a sponge," the coach said of Casey.

"He's at the front of the class with his notepad the whole time, taking everything in. His attitude is infectious.

"I was very impressed with his mature attitude in the sense that he would have been upset, and rightly so, at not getting any minutes when he thought he was going to get his debut against France.

"Then he goes back to Munster, dusts himself down and plays really well in poor conditions in Edinburgh.

"You can't promise anything in international sport, but if he gets his chance he'll certainly be ready."

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Casey is one of two uncapped players on Farrell's bench along with Ryan Baird and the coach has made seven changes to his starting team for the Italy game.

The inclusion of Jordan Larmour on the wing and return of Johnny Sexton at out-half means it's an all-Leinster backline, with 12 players in total in the starting XV from the eastern province and another four on the bench.

Farrell said a player's province is not a factor he considers in his selection.

"We play the game as it is in front of us. We make the right decisions along the way hopefully," he said.

"I've said it before, I never look at a teamsheet and say 'how many' is from any province whatsoever. It just so happens that this is the right team for this weekend.

"As coaches, as much as you try and put a plan together and give them little intricacies within the play, etc, I've been around long enough to know that good players and dangerous players can make something out of nothing as well and certainly Jordan is one of those."

Earlier this week, Johnny Sexton spoke about whether he would continue to the 2023 World Cup - hinting that he might not make it, before rowing back on those comments.

Farrell confirmed that he expects a new deal, believed to be a one-year extension, to be signed soon and said the captain would be part of his plans as long as he's up to the job.

“There is no difficulty from my point of view and I’m sure there is not from Johnny’s point of view as well," he said.

"Conversations are going on in the background and both sides are happy with those conversations, it is what it is, Johnny keeps being his brightly self during the week.

"He’s certainly been at the forefront of what has been a great week so far this week.

"As long as Johnny keeps on giving to Irish rugby, he’ll keep putting his foot forward to be in the equation won’t he?

"He feels good at this moment in time, his appetite is as strong as ever, he’s certainly one of those guys who makes the feeling in the group feel right.

"As long as that appetite stays, I’m sure that we’ll keep moving in the right direction regarding that."

Up front, Ronan Kelleher gets his first Six Nations start at hooker while Tadhg Beirne moves to blindside flanker to accommodate James Ryan's return.

“A few combinations have been together for quite some time now, obviously the front row has changed, but the three that come in, they’ve been working together in training for the last three and a half weeks," he said.

"There is some continuity in that regard there. We feel that you know Ronan deserves a start.

"His attitude has been first class in training, he’s played when he’s come on and this is a game for him to start. It’s not to say that Rob Herring hasn’t been playing well either.

“Tadhg's been playing really well whether in the second row or at 6. He’s got his chance again in the starting side.

"He adds on all sides of the ball but set-piece wise, along with James Ryan and Iain Henderson, the three of them have been pretty strong in the lineouts as well.”


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