Six Nations: Farrell targets fast start as Ireland turn their attentions to France

Hard to see Farrell and co veering too much from same selection which blitzed Wales

Bring it on. France duly secured the opening weekend’s third away bonus point win, and their 12th in succession, but not without a huge scare in Rome. Trailing 24-22 to an inspired Italian side, France pulled through 29-24 thanks to a 66th minute try by Mathieu Jalibert to set up next Saturday’s 2023 Guinness Six Nations meeting between the world’s two top-ranked sides at the Aviva Stadium.

In readiness for this round two game, which proved to be a title decider last year, the French squad gathered at Capbreton over two weeks ago on January 25th, and last Friday travelled straight to Rome, where they will remain until flying to Dublin next Thursday.

So, as well as playing at home, Ireland also have an extra day’s rest. The Irish players returned to their homes on Saturday night after Saturday’s 34-10 bonus point win over Wales in a stadium where Ireland hadn’t won in a decade. A “delighted” Andy Farrell hailed an 18th win in 20 Tests by the world’s top-ranked side which still left room for improvement, and was grateful for any amount of time to prepare for next Saturday’s challenge.

“We’d like to do a bit of prep first because we know what an outstanding side they are and the challenges they are going to bring. Getting off to a nice start allows you to focus the mind, recover and start the week properly, and build on our preparation of the last 12 days.”


In the three previous Six Nations meetings in this World Cup cycle, France have beaten Ireland in all of them, and for Farrell there is one abiding lesson for his side.

“Being ourselves is the main thing, I think,” said the Irish head coach, as opposed to “not being ourselves” in those three defeats. “Just playing our game.”

“They’re just as dangerous on the break, they’ve got a strong set-piece and they’re going to be powerful and you need to hold your own line. Playing our own game is the main thing.”

Specifically with regard to last year’s corresponding round two game, when France’s 30-24 victory ultimately proved the title decider, Farrell said: “I thought we didn’t attack the game like I know we can do in the first 15/20 minutes of the game and we got ourselves back into the game and had a chance of winning so being ourselves from the start would help.”

So keen is Farrell to embrace disruptions that in the wake of losing Jamison Gibson-Park and Cian Healy on the “midmorning” of the game that he was hoping the team bus would be 15 minutes late reaching the ground. He thought: “That would really test us.” In the event they were only three minutes late.

The exact nature of the injuries to Gibson-Park, “who picked up a knock”, and Healy were not divulged but word is that as was the case with Ronan Kelleher, they suffered hamstring twinges, which would be a curious coincidence to say the least.

Hammys being hammys, all three must be considered doubtful for next Saturday’s game, and ditto Tadhg Furlong. The weekly Monday squad bulletin may or may not clarify these issues.

Otherwise, it’s hard to see Farrell and co veering too much from the same selection which blitzed Wales with three tries in the first 21 minutes last Saturday, as well as the bench which eventually helped secure the 73rd minute bonus point try by Josh van der Flier.

About half an hour into the game, it looked as if the bonus point and effectively the win might be wrapped up well before the hour mark, thus affording Andy Farrell the opportunity to empty the bench with next week’s joust against France in mind.

True, there were five replacements by the hour mark, but ultimately, as is usually the case, both Andrew Porter and Dan Sheehan put in huge, 76-minute shifts. Johnny Sexton went almost 70 minutes – which may not be a bad thing.

Sexton said he’d had a dead leg and despite concerns by referee Karl Dickson after the Liam Williams high hit which earned him a yellow card, Farrell said there had been no need for an HA. “A slight dead leg. He should be fine.”

“It is only a start,” said the captain, “but at the same time, if you come away from a bad result today, the Triple Crown’s gone, the Grand Slam is gone, obviously you can still going for a championship but we’re still in the hunt. It’s brilliant.

“It’s the beauty of this competition, there’s no easy games. All five of our games this year are really tough and none tougher than next week. The team that hasn’t been beaten for a year coming. We haven’t beaten them yet so we’re up against it.

“When we went over to the Stade de France last year, the crowd, it was probably the best atmosphere I’ve seen, I’m sure our Irish fans will put on something similar to that.”

On the same theme, Farrell said: “I think everyone realises what’s coming next week and there’s one thing about an Irish crowd, they know that if there’s a big game and they have to get behind the team they are the best in the world, there’s no doubt about that.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times