Enthusiastic Andy Farrell relishing the challenge of leading Ireland
‘We want to improve in all aspects of the game’ says determined new head coach
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell addressing the assembled media at the National Sports Campus, Abbotstown, Dublin. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo
Everywhere you go people always ask how good will Andy Farrell be? No-one can ever know for sure, and there’s an element of risk whenever a new head coach is appointed, regardless of whether it’s a first such promotion or not.
At some juncture, as when Leinster plucked Joe Schmidt from his role as assistant coach at Clermont Auvergne, someone invariably has to take a punt. And aside from having a lengthy, high-achieving CV in both codes and three-year spells as an assistant with both England and Ireland as well as two Lions tours, there’s one other positive.
Andy Farrell truly wanted his new job as Ireland head coach.
Asked to describe himself as a coach in his first audience with the Irish media at the squad’s impressive new home at the IRFU’s base in Sport Ireland Campus, Farrell said: “I think I can be immersed in the detail, but hopefully I don’t get that immersed in the detail that it clouds me from what we want to stand for – the bigger picture stuff.
“That’s why I’ve always wanted to be a head coach. The bigger picture stuff and making sure everything comes together. I’ve loved it so far. Busy, yes, but I’m feeling great about how busy I am and bringing everything together and seeing how everything works.
“That was our first training session, our first camp, first meetings yesterday. I’ve loved every minute of it, but hopefully, I don’t take my eye off the ball of what we want to stand for and then making sure all the detail filters in underneath that.”
Of course we’re in the Farrell honeymoon period. Ireland haven’t played a match under his watch. He’s unbeaten. It’s early days. And, as was demonstrated by the reaction to the 2019 World Cup, even nine gilded seasons could not protect Schmidt from some kickings. But Farrell is prepared for them too.
“I have had plenty of kickings, honestly. I have been involved in professional sport long enough to know what a kicking is and what really matters and I am big enough and ugly enough to be able take that as well. I know what’s relevant and what’s not to us getting better as a team and that’s what matters really.”
Much has changed in line with Farrell’s promotion, most notably a new attack coach in Mike Catt, his former co-coach with England, and a new scrum coach in John Fogarty, while forwards’ coach Simon Easterby will also assume Farrell’s role in coaching the defence.
Of Catt, Farrell initially quipped: “He missed a tackle on Jonah Lomu.” Referring to that 1995 World Cup semi-final when Lomu ran amok against England, Farrell added with a smile: “I showed that one to the boys the other day and it was quite funny.”
On a more serious note, he enthused: “He’s very innovative, he’s forward-thinking, he’s an ideas man. He’ll probably throw 20 at me and I’ll make sure I sift through those to see what I can take from it.”
“That’s exactly what I want, I need somebody to challenge me, push me and bring new ideas. He’s got good energy, he’s a people person. He has no ego, he’s going to be great for us.”
To that end, Farrell most wants to see “progression” from this Ireland side, and highlighted some interesting areas where he believes they need to evolve.
“That will be the key. Winning would be another one. But I suppose there’s many aspects of our game that we need to push forward with and that’s what you would expect when you review any season, really.
“So I would say the bigger picture stuff, we want to improve in all aspects of the game. But we’ve got to make sure we stand for something, and hopefully that will be clear and obvious to everyone, really, without trying to progress too early on most things and standing for nothing.
“We’ll evolve our attack along the way, and that will probably be a longer process, we’ll keep adding towards that. Simon Easterby is going to take over the responsibility of defence and obviously I’ll be above that and helping with that, there’s plenty of stuff we can improve on our defence.
“Our attacking kicking game is something that can be improved, our set-piece; so there isn’t just one aspect of our game, we’ve got to make sure we get across most things.
He also made it clear he’s more of a substance over style head coach.
“I don’t think style’s important, I think there are more ways than one to skin a cat or win a game, it’s broader than just style.
“There’s all sorts of reasons why you would try to have a Plan A, Plan B and a Plan C. One, because of the cattle that you’ve got, so what best fits them. The opposition that you’re playing, what plan fits into playing that type of opposition, obviously the conditions on the day but as the game’s evolving as we’re playing it in front of us, we’ve got to be good in the ‘what if’ scenarios, we’ve got to be able to adapt in many ways.
“We wanna be able to play physical and abrasive, we wanna be able to take it to the opposition physically, that’s what Irish teams have been very good at in the past and I’ve been on the end of that in 2007.
“But we’ve got skilful players, we’ve got smart rugby players, we’ve got players who have got a lot more in them to give and we wanna be able to adapt to the game in front of us.”