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Farrell wants Ireland's defence to be a try-scoring weapon against France

The Ireland defence coach is pleased to have Johnny Sexton back in the team.

THOSE OF US on the outside of the professional game often look to linebreaks, missed tackles and tries conceded as barometers of defensive performance, but Ireland’s Andy Farrell doesn’t always drill into those details.

He wants his team to make every one of their tackle attempts, of course, but he also mentions scoring tries when you ask him how he assesses his team’s defensive displays.

“What type of pressure that we put on the opposition, how we’re making the opposition feel,” says Farrell when asked what his barometers are.

Andy Farrell with Jonathan Sexton Andy Farrell speaks to Johnny Sexton this week. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Tries, as I’ve said before, they come in all shapes and sizes. There’s all sorts of different reasons why systems are something that we concentrate on a hell of a lot.

“We want to attack, we do, with our defence – we want to attack and get the ball back and we want to score tries through pressure. Now, that isn’t being reckless in our approach, we’ve got to be smart at the same time.”

We have seen much evidence of the kind of things Farrell wants to see in defence from Ireland since he joined the coaching staff in April of last year.

Aggressive linespeed across the board, wings hammering up hard on the edge even when Ireland are numbers down – perhaps because they are numbers down – attempts to dislodge the ball in contact.

The only issue is that the application has not always been consistent. Bringing an incredibly aggressive defensive approach requires huge energy – both mental and physical – and Ireland have dipped on occasions.

“We did struggle with a bit of width,” says Farrell of the defeat to Scotland in the opening round of the Six Nations. “There’s always a reason for that and one of the main reasons is what speed’s the ball coming at.

“In attack, you want quick ball and you get the defence on the back foot. In defence, you want to slow ball down and that’s entry, whether you can be dominant in your tackles, slow the ball down, it gives you time to get your width back.”

That said, it should be noted that CJ Stander added almost six seconds to the ruck preceding the second Stuart Hogg try for Scotland, after a carry from Josh Strauss that just about dented the gainline.

With their 1-3-3-1 shape ensuring they constantly look to maintain width, the French could be a threat to Ireland near the touchlines today [KO 4.50pm], but Farrell isn’t always looking for exceptional width in Ireland’s defence.

Andy Farrell 'Faz' is well liked by the Ireland squad. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It isn’t just about width. Everyone’s obsessed with width but if you get too wide they play through and this French side can certainly play through you as well.

“What we’ve seen throughout the autumn and in the two games so far is dominant carries with offloads, which is short gain and playing through you, and they hit you on the counter-attack as well, so we’ve got to be ready for everything.”

Ireland’s first-half defence against the Scots “wasn’t good enough,” is how Farrell sums it up succinctly, but he was pleased with what he saw in Rome last time out.

“You play what is in front of you and we forced a lot of errors in the Italian game and got a lot of turnover ball from that. We’re happier with that progress but [France] is a different kettle of fish. We have got to bring our ‘A’ game.”

Ireland did hammer up impressively against Italy, with Garry Ringrose enjoying several standout moments, but it seems obvious that Farrell’s men will face a far more demanding test against France, even if they have only scored two tries in two games.

“They’ve got threats all over the park,” says Farrell. “If you talk about the back line, they’ve got a fabulous running threat and a lot of that is complimented by the offloading game from the forwards and they are a big set, and another coming off the bench.

“So, they will have a big impact there. The big lads that are a force going forward, that’s the challenge there, to make sure that we are meeting them going forward so the threat is nullified a little bit out wide.”

The systems are key for Ireland, and any team, but better individual defenders make life easier for everyone.

Andy Farrell and Joe Schmidt Farrell and Joe Schmidt are plotting to put pressure on the French. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Johnny Sexton’s return brings attacking class and tactical acumen to the Irish team, but the Leinster playmaker is also a superb defender. Look out for his aggressive contributions shooting up from the defensive line wide of the rucks.

“He is a guy that is committed to the whole of the game,” said Farrell. “He’s got me a couple of times this week to do extra defence, like the best players do.

“Johnny is 100% committed to his defence. He sees defence as a very important part of his game. I see his energy and his leadership within that as a crucial part of our team.”

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