Andy Farrell explains selection for Irish team to play France

Ireland are without Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, James Ryan and Peter O’Mahony

Andy Farrell and Keith Earls on Sunday’s Six nations clash with France where eight changes have been made to the squad. Video: VOTN / IRFU


Fresh injuries piled on top of concussions, on top of mind-games in the French media, Andy Farrell must guide Ireland through their most challenging week since the 2015 World Cup.

“Honestly, I thought it stunk on so many grounds,” said the Irish head coach about two French neurosurgeons giving interviews about Johnny Sexton. “I’ll leave it at that.”

Sexton has been ruled out of Sunday’s Six Nations encounter against France at the Aviva Stadium after failing at the second last hurdle of the return to play protocols, following Justin Tipuric’s knee to his temple during last weekend’s defeat to Wales.

James Ryan, the Ireland captain in Sexton’s absence last year, is also ruled out following a concussion he also sustained in Cardiff, meaning Ulster’s Iain Henderson will lead the team for the first time.

“They are in good spirits,” said Farrell of Sexton and Ryan. “They are in and around the group and they have been very helpful this week. So, health wise, they are fine.”

In total, there are eight changes to the squad with Peter O’Mahony suspension for three matches, following his red card at the Principality stadium, giving Rhys Ruddock, at 30, his first Six Nations start (the flanker was initially capped as a teenager in 2010), while Conor Murray sustained a hamstring injury in training so the uncapped Craig Casey makes the bench.

Jamison Gibson-Park starts at scrumhalf alongside Billy Burns, who is retained despite three glaring errors as Ireland chased a match winning try last Sunday.

The starting halfbacks show the massive loss of experience as they bring 10 caps into the game while Sexton and Murray combine for 195 test matches.

“He is strong, Billy - a proper footballer,” said Farrell of the former Gloucester outhalf. “And you know, he realises everyone makes mistakes and given it is international rugby, he understands the extent of that. He is a true professional. His team are right behind him and he has trained outstandingly well this week.

“I’ve had plenty of conversations with him, like I do with the rest of the team. You always try to help them find the reasons why and the process that they have been through and see how they are able to cope and park and move on. Come Tuesday Billy has been absolutely fine. He has led like every outhalf should and he has trained really well this week.”

Farrell was effusive in praising the impact Casey - a grand slam winner at under-20 - has made since the 21 year-old Limerick man was promoted to the senior squad.

“He’s been top class. His energy and application to want to get better is second to none. That says a lot for a young kid coming into an international group with so much experience. The best compliment that you can give Craig is the senior players have been blown away by his will to get better every day.”

When Farrell was asked if he has made any selection errors in the past 12 months, the coach responded: “You always look at yourselves first and foremost regarding performance and selection. I’m sure along the way there are always you look back on, the what-ifs, but you move forward, don’t you?

“It is the same this week. When you come to a few bumps in the road, all you do is look forward. There is no point in looking to the past.”

The loss of Sexton, O’Mahony, Ryan and now Murray revives memories of the week before Ireland faced Argentina in the 2015 World Cup quarter-final when Sexton, O’Mahony, Paul O’Connell, Jared Payne and Sean O’Brien were ruled out.

“This is why you do these things. You have your fingers crossed along the way; things don’t quite go your way from time to time. That is why you pick a squad the way you do. It gives people the chance to see what it is like in international rugby. I suppose our squad depth is brought into play at this moment in time.”

It most certainly is, with Ultan Dillane added to the bench ahead of Leinster’s Ryan Baird while Ed Byrne comes in as loosehead cover instead of Dave Kilcoyne.

“We will give it our best shot at the weekend,” Farrell added. “There is no doubt about that.”

Ireland v France: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Billy Burns, Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy, Rob Herring, Andrew Porter; Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson (capt); Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander.

Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Ed Byrne, Tadhg Furlong, Ultan Dillane, Will Connors, Craig Casey, Ross Byrne, Jordan Larmour.

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