Andy Farrell pleased as Ireland’s tactics bear fruit

Head coach paid tribute to CJ Stander after the South African played his final game

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell and CJ Stander celebrate after the game. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell and CJ Stander celebrate after the game. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Not quite on a par with Cheltenham, but not far off it, as Ireland won pulling up. If they had to cherry pick their best performance of the Six Nations then, in time-honoured fashion, reserving it for the final Saturday against England is certainly as opportune moment as any.

In beating England, the 2019 World Cup finalists and winners of both this tournament and the Nations’ Cup in 2020, Ireland thus assured themselves of a top half finish and condemned Eddie Jones’ team to the second fifth place of his six campaigns in the Six Nations.

Andy Farrell never over-reacted when the opening two games went against Ireland, and nor did he after this third successive win, although privately he must have been delighted as well as relieved a performance which delivered on the words from the camp.

“To win your last game in a tournament is always pleasing because it’s a long time between drinks until the next one. To finish off with a W is pleasing but I’m just delighted for the lads because they have come in for a bit of stick.

“Obviously, we’ve lost a couple of games and lost one here to France which we never like to lose but the lads have always believed in how they’re progressing and they’ve always thought there was a performance like that in them.

“The performance wasn’t perfect, there’s still a lot to work on but I’m so pleased for them that they got over the line with a nice victory against a very good side.”

There were two tries to compliment the unwavering, world-class accuracy off the tee of Johnny Sexton and there might have been a high class third as well. The first, by Keith Earls, was the product of a well-prepared and well-executed training ground move.

“It’s something we had worked on all week and you’re always trying to find a way to, first of all, win the lineout cleanly and second, how you can manipulate a defence on the back of that,” said Farrell contentedly.

“We worked all week and practiced it hard with the timing of Keith Earls and thankfully it paid off.

“I thought Jack Conan’s skill was outstanding to deliver the ball because Tom Curry had read it very well. That was very pleasing.

“I actually thought that if Keith Earls’ second try would have stuck, that would have been pretty special in itself as well,” Farrell added, in reference to the winger’s nimble finish from Sexton’s cross-kick with an advantage play which was ruled out for the slightest of knock-ons by Cian Healy when Iain Henderson diverted the ball over his head at the Irish prop.

The second try, by Conan himself in his first Test start for over a year, was the product of sustained carrying and recycling, while varying the point of attack and mixing in a fine take by the consistently effective Hugo Keenan off another crosskick by Sexton.

“The lads really believe that they’re making good strides. Attack is always the one that gets put under the most pressure in a Test match and it’s always the last piece of the jigsaw. I’m delighted for them that they went through so many phases, held onto the ball, and broke them down.

“I thought Jack Conan was very good today. He hasn’t started an international for quite some time and he was just himself, so it was pretty fitting that he finished that try off.”

The one down side was a red card for Bundee Aki, his second in Test rugby, for what the officials deemed a high shot on Billy Vunipola without mitigation, even though he dipped before contact.

As an aside, Mathieu Reynal and Romain Poite missed Ellis Genge pushing his elbow into Sexton’s head while on the ground, an action which both summed up another ill-disciplined and ragged English display when not leading from the front, and will assuredly lead to a citing.

“It’s a tough one. I have just been speaking with the referee there. It’s tough, isn’t it? The rules are the rules but at the same time it’s very tough. I’ll have a look at it again but Billy seemed to be on a downward motion with his head, but if there’s any contact obviously that leads to a red card at this moment in time.

“He’s gutted, Bundee. He’s good mates with Billy as well and he’s in the tunnel there making sure they’re still friends, which they most definitely are.”

The win and the convincing all-round performance, ensured a fitting farewell for CJ Stander after his 51st and final Test for Ireland.

“I’ve just said to him in the changing room that he could be as emotional as he wants to be now because he gives his heart and soul to the jersey, to the green one and to the red one,” said Farrell.

“He has a chance to play in a cup final for Munster next week so we wish him all the best with that.

“It’s been an emotional week. We’ve tried to keep a lid on it the best we can and you can say whether we should have brought that out or not but it is fitting that CJ was able to say goodbye to his friends and tell them the truth from where’s he’s coming from, the reasons why etc.

“How they’ve responded to him and how he’s kept a smile on his face has been totally fitting to what this team is about and we’re delighted that we’re able to put a performance together for CJ to send him off in the right way. We’re delighted that we managed to control the emotion in the right way and he’s emotional in the changing rooms, but happy emotional.

“I cannot say enough about him as a bloke. He’s the most kind-hearted, most genuine bloke that you’ll ever meet.”

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