IRFU confirm scope to plug coaching gap during Andy Farrell’s Lions commitment

Ireland defence coach Simon Easterby favourite to assume head coach’s duties

Ireland's defence coach Simon Easterby (right) and head coach Andy Farrell during a Captain's Run at Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Photograph: PA

The IRFU’s performance director David Humphreys confirmed that there is scope to bring in additional coaching resources on an interim basis during Ireland head coach Andy Farrell’s Lions sabbatical.

Farrell will lead Ireland on their two Test match tour to South Africa — they leave next week — and also be in charge for the four-match November series. His official start date as Lions head coach for next summer’s tour to Australia is December 1st.

Ireland play the Springboks on Saturday, July 6th, at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria and seven days later take on their hosts at Kings Park in Durban. In November Farrell’s Irish side will host New Zealand, Argentina, Fiji, and Australia in Dublin.

Ireland defence coach Simon Easterby, who led a senior coaching group in taking an Emerging Ireland squad on a three-game tour to South Africa in September and October 2022, is favourite to assume Farrell’s duties based on precedent for the 2025 Six Nations Championship and next summer’s tour to a Tier 2 nation, potentially Georgia.


Humphreys explained: “It’s a very exciting opportunity for someone to step in. You talk about coaching succession, this will give us a chance to bring someone else in at a very important time for the national team and test them in probably the highest-pressure environment in the Six Nations.

“Andy’s [Farrell] away for six months but he’ll still be very much involved in that process of who’s going to come in. After South Africa, we’re planning to sit down and look at how we’re going to run the next season.”

Humphreys was then asked whether there would be scope to bring in another coach from one of the provinces. He replied: “That will be part of the discussion of course. Once we know who’s going to come in and fill Andy’s shoes on an interim basis, we’ll then look at the overall make-up of the coaching team.

“If that requires some other expertise, we’ll work at whether that comes from within or outside. That’s a decision for a few months’ time.”

IRFU performance director David Humphreys: 'Outlined that he was supportive of a role that Ireland A fixtures would have in giving young players opportunities.' Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The 48-year-old Easterby will reprise his head coach role with the Emerging Ireland squad that will undertake a three-match tour to South Africa later this year. Paul O’Connell, John Fogarty and new backs coach Andrew Goodman will also travel.

There was some blowback from the provinces two years ago, but Humphreys noted that they have been kept up to date on the latest venture. “[It’s] hard to refer too far backwards, I wasn’t part of those decisions, but I think the tour happened at quite short notice which caused some challenges for preparation at the start of the season.

“All the provinces want to get off to a good start, so by announcing it last week we’ve gone very early. They know the coaching team, we’ll give them a broad indication of the group of players we’re looking at, so they’ll know what they have to do to approach weeks one, two, three and four of the URC.”

The Emerging Ireland squad is likely to be a younger cohort than two years ago and will draw heavily on recent Grand Slam-winning under-20 sides in personnel terms.

Humphreys also outlined that he was supportive of a role that Ireland A fixtures would have in giving young players opportunities.

“It’s certainly got a value, the one piece that’s come out of Emerging Ireland is the huge value that the senior coaches have had in terms of getting a really good insight into how the players not just play, because they can see that in the video or by turning up at the game, but by how they approach and prepare for training, their analysis.

“It works both ways, the players then see what’s required and what the expectation is from those senior coaches. So, it has certainly benefited that group of players and when you look at the World Cup and some of the impact those young players have had it certainly served its purpose.

“I do see a real value in A-team rugby, just being that step up and also taking certain players out of a system where they’re very comfortable and challenging them by coaching and by who they’re playing against.”

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer