Andy Farrell joins Ireland set-up as defence coach

Former England assistant under Stuart Lancaster coach signs four-year deal with IRFU

Andy Farrell will become Ireland's new defence coach in time for the three-Test tour to South Africa in June after signing a four-year contract that will take him through until after the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

Farrell, whose brother Phil won a single cap for the Ireland rugby league team in 2003 and whose son Owen is an England international, replaces Les Kiss, who stepped down after the World Cup to take over at Ulster. Farrell won't be able to work with Ireland during the Six Nations because of issues relating to the winding down of his contract with the English RFU.

The new England coach, Eddie Jones, decided to replace the entire backroom team including Farrell, Mike Catt and Graham Rowntree after taking over from Stuart Lancaster, with Paul Gustard (defence), Ian Peel (scrum) and Steve Borthwick (forwards) teaming up with the Australian.

Farrell’s capture represents a significant coup for the IRFU. He joins the Ireland coaching set-up having been assistant coach with England from 2011 to 2015, as well as defence coach for the 2013 Lions squad in Australia, where he made a positive impression on several Ireland players.

Switching

Prior to joining the England set-up, he was an assistant coach to Mark McCall’s Aviva Premiership side Saracens.

A dual code player, he made 370 appearances for Wigan, won 34 caps for Great Britain and 11 for England before switching to rugby union. He won eight caps for England while with Saracens and played three matches at the 2007 World Cup.

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt said: "It's great to have Andy coming into our coaching team. The quality of his delivery and breadth of his experience, as well as the positive impact he had when coaching a number of our senior players during the 2013 Lions tour, will add real value for us."

Andy Farrell admitted: “To have this opportunity to work with a very talented management and playing group really excites me. With a wealth of top-class senior players and a fantastic crop of youngsters pushing hard, the future is very positive for Irish rugby and I can’t wait to get started.”

Meanwhile, Ulster's decision to register Jared Payne with EPC rugby suggests that the Ireland international could be in line to return to competitive rugby before the end of the month.

Surgery

The 30-year-old is recovering from surgery to a foot injury sustained in the World Cup match against Romania.

Speaking at a press briefing, Ulster assistant coach Neil Doak intimated that Payne would be back sooner rather than later. Wednesday's decision to deregister the injured Peter Nelson and register Payne would appear to indicate that the New Zealand-born player could play some part in upcoming Champions Cup fixtures.

If Payne does manage to return to competitive action, it would be a huge boost not only for Ulster but also for Ireland ahead of the Six Nations Championship.

With Iain Henderson and Tommy Bowe already ruled out of the tournament (Henderson may well miss the entire season), Ireland may also be without Cian Healy for the opening match against Wales following elective knee surgery that will sideline him for up to a month.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer