Farrell calls for big showing in Schmidt and Best farewell
Incoming head coach expects final World Cup warm-up to be a ‘proper Test match’
Defence coach Andy Farrell says the final World Cup warm-up against Wales is a ‘massive match’. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
The initial three warm-up games having helped to finalise both Ireland’s and Wales’ 31-man squads, tomorrow’s final dress rehearsal for the World Cup at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 2pm) feels, as Andy Farrell said yesterday, like a proper Test match.
Accordingly, Ireland’s defence/assistant coach and anointed heir to the throne wants this team to mark the final home game for both Joe Schmidt and Rory Best with a statement which, as he put it, simply reads: “This is us now.”
By this, he explained: “We want to play the game the way we want to play the game. We want to play at a high tempo. We want to play with better accuracy than what we have done [on] both sides of the ball in the last three games and we want to see that fighting spirit.
“We are at home with our fans right behind us. Rory [Best] will understate with it being his last game but it does mean something to us that it is Joe’s last game and Rory’s last game.
“How do we use that emotionally? We grab hold of it, we use it to focus ourselves that little bit better and hopefully we will get that accurate performance we are looking for.”
Asked specifically what improvements he wants to see, Farrell said: “The bits of stuff in between. There is bits of our game, like our first kick-off went astray. Our discipline hasn’t been where it should be. Our ball focus isn’t where it should be. Our ability to get back on point and take the rough with the smooth, but still be positive within our game; those bits that we have been renowned for in the past haven’t been quite as cohesive in the last three games.
“But having said that, they are the warm-up games and this is a proper Test match. Why? Because Wales are coming full bore and I am sure that they will want to get on the plane with a lot of confidence as well, and we’re exactly the same.”
Not that he would ever expect the perfect performance.
“That really isn’t a reality. We all know that. Let’s make no mistake about it, this, for us, is a big game and there’s going to be patches within that game where a good side like Wales are going to have their purple patch, and we’ve got to react better, that’s what we’re after from the game.”
In this, Farrell draws on his experience of the last World Cup in England, when he was part of the coaching ticket which oversaw the host’s loss to Wales in a pivotal pool game at Twickenham, and “dealing with moments”.
“It was a do-or-die game and we didn’t deal with big moments at the right time and we feel that we’ve got the right people in place to be able to deal with those.”
In this, Farrell sees Ireland’s opener against Scotland as being every bit as critical as that England-Wales game was.
“It’s a massive match. All our focus has been the whole way through pre-season, three months of hard graft, about Scotland and we make no bones about that. Why? Because it’s our most important match. It’s the start at the World Cup and yet it will have a big say in our group.”
Tomorrow’s World Cup send-off also marks the seasonal returns of Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls, and was chosen from a fully fit squad save for Joey Carbery, whom Farrell said: “He is going great guns. He is back running, all going according to plan. If he keeps up that type of progress he will certainly be fit for Scotland.”
In all likelihood, and all being well, at least 10 or 11 of this starting XV are liable to pitch up against the Scots in Yokohama, with Peter O’Mahony and Jacob Stockdale rested after stating the last two games, and Iain Henderson and Garry Ringrose on the bench.
O’Mahony “has been put through the mill a little bit” and so the backrow sees CJ Stander, shifting to “6”, and Jack Conan starting together for only the second time, previously having done so in the 2016 third Test win over the Wallabies in Sydney in 2018, when Stander was Ireland’s try scorer.
This, Farrell agreed, should give the Irish backrow “a bit of punch, a bit of grunt, of taking our game towards them both sides of the ball, getting back our best as far as our breakdown work is concerned. They’re pretty mobile and in very good nick, all three of them, so we expect them to show that ability and that energy around the field.”
There will also be plenty of eyes on Jean Kleyn after his selection ahead of Devin Toner, although Farrell maintained that was outside noise outside their Carton House “bubble”.
“The guys are working so hard at trying to get their own game, their cohesive team game on point, that we don’t feel that. Why? Because we’re so focused on our day-to-day job. All that can go off is Jean going to his room and reading stuff or whatever. It doesn’t look like he’s been affected to me, because he’s trained outstandingly well this morning. His energy, his accuracy, his physicality was there for everyone to see.”
It’s also been suggested that Schmidt, who returned home for a family bereavement in the week before the first warm-up game against Italy, looks tired and weary.
“He wasn’t out there today, bouncing around,” said Farrell, looking somewhat amused at the suggestion. “He was flying around the pitch. He’s super excited about this weekend. He’s super excited about the World Cup. There is absolutely zero chance of him being tired, don’t worry.”
Schmidt will also keep his emotions in check, “because he knows that we’re after a performance. He’ll be the ever professional that he is. He’ll be thorough in his last few days of preparation, like he was this morning, and he will be tomorrow, and he’ll be on point on Saturday as well.”
The question being whether Ireland are too.