Andy Farrell backs Ireland players to put things right against France

Head coach believes set piece will be vital against French in Aviva clash

In the previous 20 years of the Six Nations only three times has a team lost on the opening weekend and gone on to claim the title – France in 2006, Wales in 2013 and England last year.

Nevertheless, while admitting that Sunday's 21-16 defeat by Wales is damaging, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell maintained that the title is still on.

"Well, of course, but you come away with a 'W' next week [at home to France on Sunday] and then it's game on. So this is it, it's a one-off game for us. We get ourselves back on the horse and then we get a week's break and then we go to Italy after. So this is the week. This is the week to get our Championship back on track.

"The competition is back on, isn't it? Massively. The Welsh will go to Scotland next week and try and win there, so somebody's record will go and it normally does that over the course of a Six Nations.


“We’ve got to deal with what’s in front of us. We weren’t happy with our performance when it mattered over there in Paris, so the lads will be 100 per cent up for the week ahead once we dust ourselves off and understand the reasons why about today’s performance.”

Farrell also sought to extract positives from the Irish performance in the Principality Stadium, as he highlighted the strength of the Irish set piece, improved work at the breakdown, and “more than anything” the team’s “adaptability” to playing with 14 men for the last 66 minutes following Peter O’Mahony’s sending off.

Asked if he expected a cooler head from an experienced player in the heat of battle, Farrell said: “Look, there’s nobody more gutted than Peter. He plays with his heart on his sleeve and he’s been so unbelievably important for us because that’s the way he plays. Look, he’s gutted in the changing room. I suppose we can’t say any more than that.”

Farrell praised the performances of several players who had recently returned from lengthy lay-offs, singling out Iain Henderson and Tadhg Furlong, and spoke of Paul O'Connell's positive influence on the lineout and maul.

"The boys have been working really hard with Paul about owning that side of our game and some guys have really stepped up to the plate and took responsibility. James Ryan, Iain Henderson and Tadhg Beirne have really ironed out a solid plan with Paul. That's made our lineout certainly more solid so that's a positive going into next week because certainly the French have got a pretty decent lineout defence as well."

They’ll also challenge opposition defences differently from other teams.

“They kick the ball a lot, possession is not a big thing for them, but then they’re pretty clinical in what they do on the back of a good field position etc . . .

“Set piece-wise is pretty important and our attacking breakdown is going to be pretty important because they pressure the ball there defensively. It’s not too long ago since we played them so our lads, I’m sure, will be wanting to be putting their best foot forward next week and to do that we need to get in the best frame of mind from the word go.

“We need to prepare properly so we’ll get over this defeat as soon as we possibly can and learn from the bits that we need to learn from and then it’s straight on to France.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times