Andy Farrell and Lions squad rocked by Manchester attack

‘Johnny (Sexton) trained all week. He’s absolutely fine. Seanie (O’Brien) is nearly there’

The British & Irish Lions squad during an open training session at Carton House, Co. Kildare on Thursday. Photograph: Inpho

The British & Irish Lions squad during an open training session at Carton House, Co. Kildare on Thursday. Photograph: Inpho

 

The horrific events in Manchester last Monday night shocked millions far and wide, and amongst those deeply affected have been the players and backroom team in the British & Lions squad.

This was particularly true for their “absolutely devastated” defence coach Andy Farrell, a Lancashire lad born and reared in nearby Wigan, who spoke on Thursday at the conclusions of the squad’s four-day training camp this week in the Carton House in Maynooth.

“I’m from the area. I live 20 miles up the road and it’s utter devastation. I’ve been to that concert place many a time with my kids over time and you’d never expect anything like that to happen. Our hearts and our prayers massively go out to the people of Manchester.

From that question to a rugby question is quite hard to deal with really

"You just know that the people who live in the area they’ll all pull together and unite in this tragic event.”

Asked to move swiftly along to rugby matters, “from that question to a rugby question is quite hard to deal with really” he admitted, but try he did. Purely in terms of the Lions’ preparations for the forthcoming 10-match, three-test tour, this was a more beneficial week than anticipated, thanks primarily to the defeats for Leinster and Saracens along with the Ospreys.

This unexpectedly freed up a more sizeable chunk of the squad, 30 in total, including all three of their outhalves.

“We expected a few less numbers than we had. We’ve been able to get more advancement with our plan going forward. Last week we only had one halfback, Greig Laidlaw, and to get a few more halfbacks in and more organisational stuff done with ball in hand has been great for us.”

“We finished off the week today with a session trying to put everything together that we’ve built over the last two weeks, and the intensity was there, as you would expect, and the competition was there, as you would expect. We have a couple of days off before we meet again next Sunday, and we’ll roll in with a good couple of weeks under our belt.”

It’s also enabled the squad to cram more work into their ridiculously compressed crash course prior to Monday’s departure to New Zealand in advance of their first match in Whangarei on Saturday week against a Provincial Barbarians team.

You see guys doing extra work constantly throughout the day on their computers

“Numbers alone tend to do that but when you get the calibre of player that we’ve had come in and everyone is trying to show how much homework they’ve done with the new systems etc, then you see people come to the forefront and you see leadership coming out in people,” said Farrell.

“You see guys doing extra work constantly throughout the day on their computers, pulling each other in and trying to make sure we’re as galvanised as we possibly can be in such a short space of time. And what tends to happen in this type of environment, because of the class of player that you’re working with, they tend to get it very quickly.”

Farrell also provided a positive update on the injury front, particularly with regard to Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien. “Johnny has trained all week. He’s absolutely fine. Seanie is nearly there. He’s progressed really well. He’s back to a bit of straight line running, but we’re just managing him, making sure that we don’t break him down too early. But Seanie is progressing very well.”

Sexton is also coming off the back of an unusually off-colour performance in Leinster’s semi-final defeat to the Scarlets last Friday, but Farrell, who knows the outhalf well, countered: “All world-class players have had frustrating games throughout their careers and you need them every now and again to take stock and break it down, and wonder why, and get back on the horse.

We’ve got a few ideas and combinations in our heads already

“What’s great about this environment is that you haven’t got time to think about anything else other than the task in hand. You come into the environment and you look around at the quality within training sessions. I think it’s good for any type of guy that comes in with any kind of discipline in them.”

It seems likely that the first Lions’ selection of the tour will be taken from the 30 in this week’s camp, with those involved in the Pro12 and Premiership finals this Saturday rested for the opener.

“We’ve got a few ideas and combinations in our heads already,” said Farrell. “You’d be a fool not to use the bulk of the players that have been training over the last couple of weeks because they have got a head start. It would only be fair and right, but that’s not to say that one or two of the other guys can’t sneak their way in there.”

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