| 11.2°C Dublin


Rúaidhrí O'Connor: 'Andy Farrell has shown his hand and indicated the direction Ireland will travel in the coming seasons'

Ruaidhri O'Connor


New coach refuses to bow to public opinion, but new-look back three opens up the game

Close

Ireland players (from left) Iain Henderson, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander and Tadhg Furlong show the pain of the World Cup hammering to New Zealand. All four are in Andy Farrell's team to face Scotland in the Six Nations opener on Saturday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ireland players (from left) Iain Henderson, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander and Tadhg Furlong show the pain of the World Cup hammering to New Zealand. All four are in Andy Farrell's team to face Scotland in the Six Nations opener on Saturday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ireland players (from left) Iain Henderson, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander and Tadhg Furlong show the pain of the World Cup hammering to New Zealand. All four are in Andy Farrell's team to face Scotland in the Six Nations opener on Saturday. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Andy Farrell wasn't going to please everybody regardless of what team he picked. Pandering to public opinion is not part of the job description.

By selecting 10 of the starting XV that suffered a record World Cup defeat to New Zealand, the former assistant has offered his players a shot at a form of redemption.

In doing so, he risked the wrath of a fandom hungry for change.

Now, the onus is on the players to repay his faith with a big performance against Scotland.

As Johnny Sexton said last week, the full redemption song will only be heard in France 2023 when Ireland get their next chance to achieve at a World Cup.

There's a lot of rugby to be played between now and then and they'll have to settle for a winning start to the Six Nations to begin the moving-on process.

The mood around the camp is positive, but it was remarkably upbeat in the days before they lost to the All Blacks - so it's best not to read too much into the noises from the camp-fire.

Farrell will point to his new faces as a sign he is moving things on and the presence of Caelan Doris and Ronan Kelleher should not be dismissed.

He has shown his hand and indicated the direction Ireland will travel in the coming seasons.

Experience trumps form

Rugby Newsletter

Sign up to 'The Collision' for a free weekly update from Rugby Correspondent Ruaidhri O'Connor and the best writing from our expert team. Issued every Friday morning.

This field is required

Picking Conor Murray over John Cooney was not the popular choice, but Farrell has backed his Lion to silence the critics.

With Rob Kearney now out of the squad, the Munster scrum-half has become the symbolic face of frustration with a perceived conservatism that developed under Joe Schmidt.

Murray was undroppable under the New Zealander and remains the No 9 in the new regime despite Cooney's stunning form.

Farrell talked up the incumbent's determination, leadership and recent form. He said Cooney will play a role off the bench and was quick to remind us that Luke McGrath remains a quality option.

Murray's selection already indicates that Farrell places great stock in having experience at the highest level.

He is standing by the Munster man, just as his predecessor did, in the hope the 30-year-old finds his old form, silences the doubters and does enough to keep his place.

Doris shakes up back-row

The focus on the Murray call perhaps deflects from the other big names that miss out and Peter O'Mahony's demotion to the bench is a big shift.

Vice-captain under Schmidt and one of the few players to land any blows against New Zealand, the Munster skipper finds himself squeezed out by the arrival of a new face in Caelan Doris.

The Leinster No 8's arrival on the scene forces CJ Stander to shift across the back-row to blindside, with his club captain having to make do with a place on the bench.

Doris looks born to play at this level. He is an all-rounder in the mould of Kieran Read and his footballing ability, and rugby brain, can open up Ireland's back-row.

Stander always posted big numbers when wearing the No 8 shirt, but his direct running can be one-dimensional and better suited to the blindside.

O'Mahony relies on big moments rather than high carry-counts and he finds himself on the outside.

Josh van der Flier can often look under-powered at this level, but he's in fine form.

With Jack O'Donoghue and Max Deegan pushing, O'Mahony better produce when introduced at the weekend.

Counter-attacking threat

With Keith Earls out injured and Will Addison struggling, Farrell has opted for the most exciting back-three available in Jordan Larmour, Andrew Conway and Jacob Stockdale.

Under Schmidt, the back-three's first instinct was to look for support when they received the ball in the back-field. Their second was to go to the boot.

One easy way of opening up Ireland's game would be to give the squad's three best broken-field attackers the licence to counter.

Larmour has been sensational at times with Leinster this season and he and Conway were Ireland's best attackers at the World Cup. Stockdale has returned to form and is brilliant one-on-one.

Allowing them to take on their men adds an instant layer of danger to this team.

Ulster's lineout woes

Rob Herring is a fine carrier and an excellent tackler. With eight caps, he's the most experienced hooker in the squad and Rory Best's retirement has afforded him a leading role at Ulster.

Iain Henderson, meanwhile, has returned from a disappointing World Cup campaign and played quite well for his province without really tearing up trees.

Together, they've been part of a fine Ulster season but they've been running the one part of the province's game that has malfunctioned over and over again.

When Ireland last lost to Scotland, their lineout collapsed. Indeed, most of the bad days under Schmidt came on the days when their work out of touch failed.

So, it's over to the Ulster brains-trust, plus James Ryan, to find a way of supplying clean, quick ball to the backs.

Ireland's two best lineout forwards are on the bench and when they come on, Devin Toner and O'Mahony will provide reassurance to debutant Ronan Kelleher, but from the start the targets will be the second-rows and Doris.

It's essential Herring finds a way to find his men.

Please register or log in with Independent.ie for free access to this article

Already have an account?


Related Content





Most Watched





Privacy