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Dublin: 0°C Friday 4 December 2020

'If you can't deal with the pressure of a selection day, you're not right for the job'

Ireland players are feeling the heat of competition in training for longer as they are made wait to see the starting XV.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

‘SOMETIMES WE HAVE to pretend we don’t know the team for you guys,” said Johnny Sexton on Tuesday, exposing the smoke and mirrors of international team announcements past.

“But we actually don’t know the team at the moment.”

Whatever hard evidence we see of changes Andy Farrell has made to the Ireland team’s performance over the most unusual first year in charge, his approach to team announcement day is certainly a departure from what went before.

“We’d generally have known the team on the Tuesday with Joe (Schmidt),” says second row Tadhg Beirne, “we had the squad announced to us today (Wednesday) before we got to the pitch. By the time I got in I was already getting messages from people.

“So that was different.”

Word will always get around. Which is partly why it was so curious that Schmidt never followed the lead of Warren Gatland or Eddie Jones and unveil his XV ahead of deadline.  The Kiwi was routinely left livid when his team selections leaked out a day or even two days before he listed off 1-23 in front of an IRFU mic on Thursday.

Farrell’s approach is to give the team to the players later and to the wider world sooner.

“It’s kept everyone on their toes, keeps everyone training hard and trying to improve themselves which is great too,” says Beirne.

The difference may only be a day and a single training session, but Beirne is not alone in feeling competition heightened by a prolonged wait for the XV to be announced.
Pressure is being kept on Ireland’s players for longer, earlier in the week.

“Well there’s no hotter cauldron than the Saturday afternoon playing international rugby,” says Farrell, explaining why he is keen for competitive training sessions the move to Wednesday team announcement and cranking up pressure within the squad.

“The pressure that you put yourself under in those moments, in those games, it’s something that you dream of as a kid the whole time. So there’s always pressure and if you can’t deal with the pressure of a selection day, you’re not right for the job anyway.

“So, there’s a little bit of that but obviously we need to make sure that we keep on developing for he future as well and the only way you do that is by giving it a chance in training as well.”

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Hugo Keenan and Will Connors are the obvious beneficiaries from such stock being placed in training ground performances. The versatile back will take on the left wing berth while Jacob Stockdale moves to fullback.

A safer call might well have been to limit the tweaks in the back three by leaving Stockdale in the position he holds most experience. But there is a willingness here to trust in Stockdale’s growing body of work at 15 and also Keenan’s terrific form at provincial level.

“Faz has his own way of playing,” says Beirne, “he has his own culture and his own way of doing things, which is different. That’s something everyone gets used to and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves in here and enjoying this new environment that he’s creating.

“It’s incredibly intense at times, when it needs to be intense and everyone’s working for each other and bouncing off each other in here.”

tadhg-beirne Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Farrell has repeatedly said he wants to see Ireland show their ability to adapt under pressure. Playing outside a planned structure does not necessarily mean they will throw caution to the wind and fling the ball into a blind offload. But it does put the onus on players to think for themselves and trust their instincts.

“You have a bit of a license to play what’s in front of you, to back yourself which is exciting. Especially with the type of players we have. We have some really exciting rugby players in this squad.

“If we’re able to do that and express ourselves the way Faz wants us to express ourselves I think we’re going to create some really good opportunities in attack. And even in defence, to go after them a bit.

“We’ve a bit more license to go after the ball and stuff like that, so it’s quite exciting.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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