Andy Farrell: Ireland must adapt in white-hot Twickenham heat

Ireland coach has retained faith in a number of players who set up win over Wales

Autumn Nations Cup: England v Ireland, Saturday November 21st, Twickenham (kick-off 3pm, RTÉ 1, Channel 4).

Watching England outmuscle the heavyweight Georgian pack on a sodden day in Twickenham last weekend, the thought occurred that they wouldn’t mind if that served as a wet run for Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup rendezvous with Ireland at Twickenham.

Eddie Jones put it up to his pack to out-scrum Georgia which, to his evident satisfaction, they did, and hammered this home by scoring three of their six tries through their lineout maul.

While there’s no avoiding the physical collisions, given the choice one ventures England would much rather an arm wrestle than Ireland, so how do Andy Farrell’s side avoid one?


“Being adaptable,” said the Ireland head coach yesterday. “You have got to adapt as the game is unfolding. What are the different ramifications? If the set-piece isn’t going well and they mess up your ball off the top, what’s your next action? If the ball that you want to play quick with, that every team wants to play quick with, becomes slow, what is the next option? What are we doing if it starts to rain during the game? There’s all these different variables.

“The way that we’re going with our game is all about decision-making and being in the moment. Being adaptable to what the game offers for us is our way forward.”

With their Saracens-infused mentality, the empty stadium will underline the England players’ penchant for loudly exclaiming their minor on-pitch victories. James Ryan seemed particularly irritated by this on the losing trek here last February.

“That type of chat comes from things going their way and putting themselves in a position for that to happen,” said Farrell. “For example, if you keep sending players into brick walls all the time, then they’ll get an opportunity to be able to do that. If the set-piece doesn’t go how you’d want it to go, you give them opportunities to do that.”

In this, Farrell takes encouragement from how Ireland dealt with Wales last week.

“I have absolutely no doubt that Wales came to the Aviva wanting to be physical and mess things up a little bit physically. I thought we was cool and calm, and reacted how we should react, by playing some good rugby and being dominant in how we play the game.”

Hence Rónan Kelleher has been retained at hooker and Quinn Roux at lock, with CJ Stander restored at blindside and Peter O'Mahony shifting to openside. Rob Herring, Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale return on the bench.

Recalling Leinster’s scrum woes in their Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final defeat by Saracens, retaining Roux to pack down behind Andrew Porter made sense given how the scrum went last week. Even so, it says much about the 30-year-old’s recent flowering that he has been picked ahead of a fit-again Henderson and Tadhg Beirne.

“He deserves it, he deserves it. Quinn in the past has always worn his heart on his sleeve but sometimes too much,” said Farrell in citing the accuracy of Roux’s performance against Wales.

Roux seemed more vocal and assured than ever before in an Ireland shirt, and Farrell attributed his greater confidence to assuming more of a leadership role in calling the lineouts at Connacht.

“I suppose in the past, when you try to work your way in you’re trying to show everyone what you can do instead of making sure you’re doing what the team needs you to do and Quinn has worked that out over the past year, for sure.”

Furthermore, restoring Bundee Aki alongside Chris Farrell certainly gives the midfield ballast, where England are missing Manu Tuilagi, often the chief wrecking ball in previous meetings. In six matches against Ireland, Tuilagi has been on the winning side each time.

Interestingly though, the prime decision-makers at halfback, Jamison Gibson-Park and Ross Byrne, have only 11 caps between them, and will each be starting only their second Test respectively. By contrast Ben Youngs in tandem with Owen Farrell or George Ford – Jones announces his selection on Thursday – will go onto the pitch with a combined 192 or 172 caps.

To further put this in context, save for World Cup warm-up friendlies against Wales (twice) and Italy as well as the second-string meeting with the Azzurri in Chicago two years ago, this will be the first time Ireland go into a clash against a Tier 1 country without Conor Murray or Johnny Sexton as a starting halfback since the former made his full debut alongside Sexton in the opening match of the 2011 World Cup against the USA.

In 85 of 89 tests against Tier 1 countries since that day, one or usually both have been starting.

“I suppose experience plays a part,” admitted Farrell. “You look at Conor and Johnny, they had to get that experience somewhere. They had to be trusted to play in big games like this. When they started running the show on the big occasion like this game is, it stands them in good stead for the future. That’s how you gain experience. The two lads are at the other end of their journey but they’re more than capable of pulling it out of the bag.”

There’s also a logic in picking Byrne, whose only previous start was the 57-15 defeat in Twickenham over a year ago, alongside his Leinster halfback partner.

“That’s the obvious thought, that they have played together quite a bit,” said Farrell, before adding: “But this is a different way of playing with Ireland compared to how they play with Leinster. They deserve it in their own right. They deserve to have a chance to see how they run a game on the big stage. We’re as curious as they are in how they do that.”

The retention of Lowe, Roux and Gibson-Park alongside the returning Aki and Stander means five of the starting lineup are ‘project players’.

Ireland team to play England: Hugo Keenan; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher, Andrew Porter; Quinn Roux, James Ryan (capt); CJ Stander, Peter O'Mahony, Caelan Doris. Replacements: Rob Herring, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham, Iain Henderson, Will Connors, Conor Murray, Billy Burns, Jacob Stockdale.