Rugby World Cup: Farrell says Ireland’s defence is key against Scotland
Irish back three will likely consist of Larmour and Stockdale on wings, with Conway at fullback
Ireland’s defence coach Andy Farrell at a press conference in Yokohama, Japan. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Although the expectation remains that Keith Earls and Rob Kearney will not have fully recovered from quad and calf issues in time for Ireland’s opening World Cup game against Scotland on Sunday, the management have made no contingency plans for having Will Addison on standby.
“No. The best thing for Will is for him to keep ticking over and playing and training and keeping his rugby brain going as well. He’s had a good pre-season because he’s come back from a big old injury with his back ,so it’s important that he keeps going rugby-wise.”
Clearly, therefore, at the very least the Irish management believes Earls, Kearney and Robbie Henshaw, who has definitely been ruled out of this opening game, will still feature at some point in the pool stages, with Garry Ringrose to be Bundee Aki’s probable midfield partner against the Scots.
The Irish back three for Sunday – shared by the Scottish camp – will likely consist of Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale on the wings, with Andrew Conway at fullback; an outside trio which would have seemed very unlikely for much of the last 18 months since the draw came up with this pivotal Celtic pool opener.
If this does come to pass it will come as something of a change in thinking for Larmour has made four of his test starts at fullback, as well as another four there off the bench, whereas Conway has worn ‘15’ on two of his nine starts, and just four of his 20 starts for Munster last season. That said, he looked composed at full-back in the endgames away to England and Wales, which signals that this option was being explored then.
For a defence coach the spate of decidedly untimely niggles can only have been compounded by the unpredictability of the Scots, or what Farrell described as “understanding that box of tricks”.
He assuredly had Finn Russell’s inventive running, passing, offloading and both short-range and cross-kicking in mind, not to mention his penchant for intercepts.
“They’re attacking kicking game is really potent. They see the space whether it’s been in behind and they’re not shy of throwing a long ball into that space and somebody picking it up on the run etc.
“They like to play a high tempo. There’ll be something that we’ve not seen over the last couple of years, we’re sure of that, but if we don’t get ahead of the game and our head space is right throughout and we are ‘next moment’ focused, then I’m sure it will be a good contest, our defence against their attack.”
There remains the residual effects of the 57-15 defeat in England, when Stockdale was exposed by what happened inside him. So how can they make his life easier?
“Well, win the collisions first and foremost. If you win the collisions you can slow the ball down a little bit. It helps that fold, doesn’t it? And the speed with which we work at. It’s not all going to be perfect and you might say ‘ah, the Irish defence is short of numbers.’ But it’s still got to be able to deal with that accordingly.
“It’s not all a perfect picture and we’ve got to be able to adapt to what’s in front of us, not just what’s in front of us from the Scottish point of view but what we’ve actually got as well, and I feel like we’re heading in the right direction with that.”
As Ireland’s incoming head coach Farrell batted away notions that he would be distracted by that prospect in any way.
“Definitely not, no. That’s one thing that will never happen. I wouldn’t be true to the players and I certainly wouldn’t be true to myself if I wasn’t being myself and that won’t change, 100 per cent.
“Do I look into the future? Obviously there are plans that have to be made, it would be stupid not to do a bit of planning for the future. That’s what everyone does. But, honestly, if you ask me about the future I’m not even thinking about Japan that much at this moment in time and that’s a six-day turnaround. It’s been full-on for this game, and that’s the way it will stay.”
Although one imagines Farrell’s influence within the camp has grown, he maintains the players have not begun to view him differently.
“No. Honestly, they don’t. I would expect them to if I was different, but, no, I want to stay true to myself and keep being myself.”
While the Scots might have a few new tricks up their sleeves as well, there’s more to come from Ireland too.
“Yeah, we’d expect quite a bit. We’ve been gearing up for this game. Our whole pre-season has obviously been building in certain parts to get to different stages in our bases of fitness and skill level etc. But our planning has been building up for a good start to the competition, so you would expect for us to hit the ground running.”
In the heel of the hunt Farrell believes that the team’s ability to adapt to the pressure of how the game is unfolding will be, as he put it, key.
“Calm, making good decisions along the way, and in control of what we can be in control of, that’s certainly the key and bringing that physical edge to our game as well, which is always part of a good performance.”