Andy Farrell pleased with development of Ireland’s squad depth

Finishing the campaign with five successive wins tilts ledger towards positive

Ireland’s Gavin Coombes scores a try during the Summer Series victory over the United States at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Donall Farmer/PA

Ireland’s Gavin Coombes scores a try during the Summer Series victory over the United States at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Donall Farmer/PA

 

So that was the 2020-21 season that was, with a bit of 2019-20 thrown in. Three thirds, as it were. It began with a tilt at one Six Nations title that came up short, and consecutive third-place finishes in the Autumn Nations Cup and another Six Nations.

The win over England and finishing the campaign with five successive wins definitely tilts the ledger toward the positive, although Andy Farrell isn’t shouting from the rooftops.

“We’re always judged on the Six Nations and we were nearly there against Wales and you can talk about the red card, but that’s one that got away. We pride ourselves on winning every game at the Aviva and France got that one but how we reacted when our backs were against the wall was a credit to the lads.

“The big game was the last game against England and we performed then and it’s nice to get a few more wins under our belts that will take us through to a much-needed off-season where, as I’ve said before, we’ve whetted a few appetites and grown competition for places.

“Hopefully next season starts off with a bang,” he said in reference to an autumnal campaign which begins as it ended, with a game against the USA Eagles, albeit in Las Vegas, and takes in home games against New Zealand, Argentina and, quite possibly, Japan.

In any event, in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s 71-10 win over the USA, Farrell believes the Irish squad finish the season as a better unit than it started.

“Of course we are because the more time we spend together the better the cohesion is going to get. We are fully understanding of where we want to go as a team. We are growing and that competition for places from lads that have not been in camp before is only going to add to that.

“You saw in parts tonight once we settled down that we are able to play to space quite a bit and get our game flowing at times. You saw in the Japan game that it isn’t just about going around teams neither, you can find space down the middle.”

The Irish head coach hailed the team’s rucking against Japan and the scrum in both games.

“Our lineout and our maul is now the weapon that we are after as well. I was delighted with our attitude in defence tonight as well. So all areas certainly have to grow after a long year of rugby. That bodes well for the next time we meet up.”

Farrell thanked the Eagles for providing the fixture at short notice, and after just 10 days together and a six-day turnaround from losing to England at Twickenham.

Defensive naivety

Ireland’s 10-try demolition of the USA, whose performance Gary Gold described as “unacceptable”, has to be taken in context.

Signs of the Eagles’ defensive naivety at Twickenham – porous on the edges and in the middle, while leaving space on the edges and in the backfield – duly came to fruition and was compounded here by being reduced to 14 men for the last 26 minutes.

Even so, with Stuart McCloskey often shaping to truck the ball up, only to instead use his ever-improving passing game, and Joey Carbery often taking the ball as second receiver, Ireland played with impressive width.

Some of the interlinking between forwards and backs was seamless and the willingness to take risks for reward was reflected in 20 or so offloads.

That said, Farrell admitted he was “certainly disappointed” that his players hadn’t been so proactive from the outset.

“I said to them at half-time about the lack of commitment to believing in themselves. We were half in and half out for the first 20 minutes and therefore a little bit inaccurate. That was the message at half-time.

“They went and took our game to America and I thought we did exactly what we wanted to do and that’s play to the space. And the space in this particular game was out wide on more occasions and we didn’t let America settle.

“Certainly when we made 10/15 metres down the short-side, I thought we were great at everyone getting back in the game and taking part and connecting in getting back to the space at the other side of the field.”

Farrell is also clearly disappointed that Johnny Sexton has not been called up to the British & Lions squad in light of the injury to Finn Russell which is likely to sideline the Racing 92 and Scottish outhalf until the first Test.

Warren Gatland instead opted to call up Marcus Smith, who is on the crest of a wave after his starring role in Harlequins’ stunning Premiership semi-final and final wins and then winning his first two caps in the wins over the USA and Canada over the last four weeks.

By contrast, Sexton hasn’t played since suffering a head knock in Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final win over Exeter in April, and the decision to both rest him for their semi-final against La Rochelle and Ireland’s two Tests against Japan and the USA hasn’t done his Lions chances any favour.

“Johnny is fighting fit,” maintained Farrell. “He’s been in our camp, he is taking good care of himself and Warren knows that. I think he [Gatland] made the comments that it was like-for-like with Finn Russell and Marcus Smith.

“I mean, I don’t know what to make of it, to be honest. Again, I can only go back to what we all know, who was the best flyhalf in the Six Nations? I don’t know what more Johnny could do really.”

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.