Andy Farrell expects Ireland to step up quality in World Cup opener

By Sports Desk September 07, 2023

Head coach Andy Farrell expects Ireland to be “a hell of a lot slicker” in their Rugby World Cup opener following some disjointed warm-up displays.

The world’s top-ranked nation are among the pre-tournament favourites and launch their campaign on Saturday afternoon against Pool B minnows Romania in Bordeaux.

In-form Ireland arrived in France on a 13-match winning run but having failed to fully convince during last month’s disjointed victories over Italy, England and Samoa.

Farrell is untroubled by those patchy performances – produced by largely experimental line-ups – and has backed his players to deliver when it really matters.

“It’s certainly not a concern because obviously (they were) three warm-up games with different personnel and everyone is at different stages in the pre-season,” he said.

“It’s all galvanised to one point and this is it: the start of the competition.

“The performance should be one that’s a hell of a lot slicker, let’s put it that way.

“Understanding what it’s all about and getting down to business is where we’re at at this stage. We’re looking forward to getting going.”

Farrell has named a strong starting XV for the curtain raiser, albeit world player of the year Josh van der Flier begins on the bench, while wing Mack Hansen has the weekend off, despite being available.

Fly-half Johnny Sexton is back from a three-match ban to captain Ireland, while rookie lock Joe McCarthy is among the six starting World Cup debutants.

Farrell’s 33-man squad contains a total of 18 players who have never played on the biggest stage.

The Englishman feels there are benefits to that scenario but also suggested some of the newcomers need to avoid distractions better than they did around the recent Samoa game in Bayonne, when Ireland were based in nearby Biarritz.

“It’s an advantage because of the youthfulness and the quality of those players is top drawer,” he said.

“But they also need to understand what it is that they’re coming into.

“The reason we went there (to Biarritz) is that there’s a lot of distraction that goes on, certainly when you’re in a hotel that’s on the beach.

“Some people handled that brilliantly, some people didn’t. Learning from those experiences is pretty important because you don’t get second chances after this in World Cups.

“You have to wait four more years – if you’re lucky enough.”

Unfancied Romania are ranked 19th in the world. Farrell is braced for a physical assignment amid temperatures forecast to reach around 35 degrees Celsius.

“For anyone that’s watched them, it’s pretty clear and obvious that they’re a determined group,” said Farrell.

“I think by their own recollection they would say that their point of difference is their power, their aggression, their set-piece.

“They love mauling, they love the scrummaging part of the game. They’re very direct in the forwards and pretty nippy and dangerous within the backs as well.

“We’ve scouted them well but, at the same time, more of the concentration this week has been on ourselves.”

Related items

  • Andy Farrell challenges Test rookie Ciaran Frawley to deputise with distinction Andy Farrell challenges Test rookie Ciaran Frawley to deputise with distinction

    Andy Farrell has challenged Test rookie Ciaran Frawley to “prove a point” after handing him a long-awaited full Ireland debut in place of the injured Hugo Keenan.

    Versatile Leinster back Frawley received his first call-up in the autumn of 2021 but has so far been restricted to 44 minutes of international action across two appearances from the bench.

    The 26-year-old will start Saturday afternoon’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Wales at full-back after Keenan sustained a knee issue in the 36-0 round-two win over Italy.

    Head coach Farrell is hopeful his first-choice number 15 will be fit to face England on March 9 but backed Frawley to deputise with distinction against Warren Gatland’s side in Dublin.

    “The versatility that Frawls has got has always probably earmarked him for a bench spot but he’s always been waiting for this chance,” said Farrell.

    “Hugo doesn’t get injured too much, does he?

    “His skillset is fantastic and it’s a big week for him so it will be a test of his temperament but he’s playing in a good side and I’m sure he’ll take his chance.

    “He’s trained there (at full-back) for us a lot. It’s very natural for him to fill that position and he deserves his chance.

    “He’s had an appetite to want to get to this type of position so now it’s come around I’m sure it’s a big moment for him and his family.

    “But it’s all about performing. It’s all about taking your chance. All your need is a chance. It’s up to the individuals to go and take that and prove a point.”

    Frawley aside, Farrell has reverted to the starting XV which began the impressive 38-17 victory over France on the opening night of the tournament.

    Captain Peter O’Mahony, prop Tadhg Furlong and centre Bundee Aki return from injuries, while lock Tadhg Beirne, scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and flanker Josh Van Der Flier are also recalled following the routine success over the Azzurri on February 11.

    Uncapped prop Oli Jager has been included on a bench which has a six-two split of forwards and backs.

    The 28-year-old’s opportunity at Test level comes after he left New Zealand club Crusaders to join Munster late last year.

    “It’s always a pleasure to give someone their debut,” said Farrell. “I think this is a special one because it’s a special story in Oli.

    “When we was over in New Zealand (in the summer of 2022), I met him about his plans and where that sat but he was content enough because he was building a really nice life for himself over there and doing unbelievably well for the Crusaders.

    “But he showed his ambition to come back to Ireland and make a claim for a spot playing for his country.

    “We’ve had him earmarked for a while but watching him start his career in Ireland at Munster, we’ve been nothing but impressed.”

    Ireland are seeking an 18th successive home win to keep themselves on course for back-to-back Grand Slam titles.

    Opponents Wales have not won a Six Nations fixture in Dublin since 2012.

    “Playing against Wales, well you know it’s always going to be a scrap,” said Farrell.

    “Wales against Ireland, it probably means a little bit more to them, I’ve been told (that) over the years. We’re aware of that.”

  • Gregor Townsend says Calcutta Cup success is Scotland’s sole focus Gregor Townsend says Calcutta Cup success is Scotland’s sole focus

    Gregor Townsend says Scotland’s sole focus is on winning their “biggest game of the season” against England this weekend and maintaining their recent dominance of the Calcutta Cup.

    The Scots go into Saturday’s showdown with their bitter rivals knowing they will almost certainly require a victory to stay in contention for the Guinness Six Nations title after their controversial defeat by France last time out.

    Townsend is adamant that any lingering injustice from ‘trygate’ a fortnight ago has been parked and that any talk of contending for the title can remain firmly on the backburner until after their high-stakes encounter with Steve Borthwick’s side.

    “When you’re coming in off the back of a defeat, you have to bounce back with a victory,” said Townsend, when asked on Thursday how the France defeat has left his side’s title prospects.

    “You’re not really thinking about the championship. We’ll see where we are on Saturday.

    “The full focus is on this game because it’s our most important game of the season.

    “It’s the most important game for our supporters and we also play for a trophy, in amongst the Triple Crown and other trophies.

    “But this is one that we’re focused on more than the others. That probably shouldn’t be the case, but it is.

    “It’s history. It’s emotion. We’ve seen the impact this game has on Scottish supporters when we do manage to get a victory in this fixture. That’ll drive us on Saturday.”

    Having beaten England only three times in 27 attempts between 1990 and 2018, the Scots now find themselves going into this weekend’s fixture on the back of a three-game winning run and having lost only one of their last six meetings with their old foes.

    Townsend, who was accustomed to regular defeats against England in his time as a player, admits his team’s recent burst of Calcutta Cup success has given them increased belief going into Saturday’s match.

    “Yes, for sure,” he said. “The game in 2018 (Scotland’s first win over England in a decade) has certainly given the players confidence when they’ve taken on England in the last few games.

    “But what’s most relevant is the game you’ve just played, the things you have to work on to be a better team, and the threats that England bring.

    “This England team is different to the one we faced 12 months ago but ultimately it’s just about delivering in the 80 minutes on the day.”

    Townsend has made three changes to the side that started the 20-16 defeat by France, with Glasgow wing Kyle Steyn returning after missing Les Bleus game when his wife went into labour and Toulouse full-back Blair Kinghorn back after sitting out the first two matches with a knee injury.

    Kyle Rowe and Harry Paterson, who deputised in the absence of the two experienced backs, drop out of the squad altogether.

    The most notable change is in the back row where Edinburgh flanker Jamie Ritchie, who recently lost the captaincy and then was then left out of the 23 for the France game, returns to the number six jersey in place of Matt Fagerson, who is dropped from the squad.

    “Jamie has really accepted the challenge that was there about a month ago that there’s increased competition in the back-row and for that reason he was no longer going to be captain,” explained Townsend.

    “But since that conversation he’s played two games for Edinburgh and one for Scotland in Cardiff and he’s played well.

    “We believe this game will suit his strengths and his experience he can bring to the team as well will be a boost.”

  • Warren Gatland says ‘the right structures’ give Ireland an advantage over Wales Warren Gatland says ‘the right structures’ give Ireland an advantage over Wales

    Wales head coach Warren Gatland says he is “not 100 per cent convinced” that Welsh regional rugby will undergo the proper reset he feels it requires.

    Wales face runaway Guinness Six Nations title favourites Ireland in Dublin on Saturday – and the contrast between two long-standing rivals could hardly be greater.

    On the field, Ireland have lost just two of their last 40 home Tests, while victory over Wales would see them equal England’s record of 11 successive Six Nations wins.

    Wales, meanwhile, have lost nine of their last 10 Six Nations fixtures, and off the field it is a similar case of chalk and cheese.

    Ireland are thriving from a system of centrally-contracted players that underpins vibrant, successful provincial teams, while Wales’ four professional regions are each preparing for significant budget cuts that will take effect from next season.

    Asked to assess the key difference between Irish and Welsh rugby, Gatland said: “I think they (Ireland) have just got the right structures in place.

    “Probably, if I look at the previous time I was here (between 2008 and 2019), we were kind of papering over the cracks of the things that were happening in Welsh rugby.

    “We have got an opportunity for a reset, which unfortunately I am not 100 per cent convinced we will have a proper reset within our regions.

    “It has probably felt sometimes like you are in a sinking ship and you are trying to plug the holes a little bit. So there is still lots of work for us to do.

    “It took a long time (in Ireland), but that has benefited from the performances of their provincial teams, which has transferred into their international team.

    “We were probably the other way around. We were the reverse. Right now, we are probably reflective of where our regions are. We have got to look at closing that gap.”

    Gatland believes having the correct infrastructure at Wales’ four professional regions – Cardiff, Scarlets, Ospreys and Dragons – is key.

    “I continue to speak about infrastructure, getting the right infrastructure, the right environment, the right S&C (strength and conditioning) coaches, medical staff, quality coaches. training facilities, grounds and stuff,” he added.

    “Forget about the players. Get that (infrastructure) right, and then you start building your squad.

    “We have tended to do it the other way around – or a bit of 50/50 – and then it just feels like you are plugging up the holes of a sinking ship.

    “The only way we are going to do it as a group is if we work together and we support each other.

    “Everyone talks about the finances, and I understand that, but it is (about) making the right decisions.

    “The short-term fix is to go and buy two or three players that might plug a couple of holes.

    “But if we don’t think about the long-term benefit of the game and the infrastructure we’ve got, we are just going to be behind the eight-ball continuously.

    “My advice to all the regions is don’t worry about players. If it means picking young players to your squad, make sure you spend the money on your facilities, make sure you spend the money on the right people within your environment.”

    On Saturday’s Aviva Stadium encounter, Gatland said: “There has been a lot said about us being underdogs, but that is not a motivation for us.

    “The motivation is the pressure we are putting on ourselves to get better from game one and two.

    “We have spoken all week about having no fear to go there. It is going to be a huge challenge for us, but you have got to embrace that, you have got to be excited about that.”

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.