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Image: James Crombie/INPHO

We can still win this year's Six Nations, says Andy Farrell

Ireland coach was hurt by Sunday’s defeat to England but still thinks his side can have a say in this year’s championship.
Feb 25th 2020, 6:24 AM 5,672 14

ANDY FARRELL HAS firmly stated his belief that Ireland will recover from Sunday’s dispiriting performance against England and claim this year’s Six Nations championship.

The 24-12 loss at Twickenham was Ireland’s first defeat since Farrell replaced Joe Schmidt as head coach, yet despite the sloppiness of that display, Farrell is convinced Ireland can end their campaign with victories over Italy and France.

Complicating matters somewhat is the doubt hanging over the Italy game – due to fears surrounding the Coronavirus. And that’s before we mention the run of form France are on. Unbeaten in three, Scotland and Ireland are blocking their path to a grand slam.

romain-ntamack-celebrates Perfect 10: Romain Ntamack celebrates France's win in Wales. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I one hundred per cent believe (we can win this year’s title),” said Farrell, “because we will take the lessons from Sunday’s defeat and we will take the hurt as well.

“We have a side who are desperate to stay in the championship. We can learn from why we gave them (England) so much front-foot ball on Sunday and (why they had a) mentality that was a bit stronger than ours. We need to make sure we get it to the last weekend.”
It helps that Ireland’s record against France is decent – just one defeat coming from their last nine meetings against Les Bleus. In contrast, they’ve hit a mental block against England, losing three on the spin now inside the last 12 months. Twice Farrell said he believes his team could regain the momentum lost in Twickenham. 

“One hundred per cent, I definitely do,” he said. “We need to be disappointed with this. Some might say the scoreline on Sunday flattered us, but at the end of the day we didn’t roll over.”

That didn’t stop Eddie Jones from dishing out the insults – saying England would have declared at half-time if it was a cricket match. “Is that what he said?” Farrrell bristled.
“Look, they probably thought they would get to a cricket score after building that interval lead. But that didn’t happen.

“We can give ourselves credit for that. We started the second-half pretty well with a bit of intent. Being a good side, they responded immediately. Still, we finished the game off strongly and you know what, we are still in a competition. We need a top performance against Italy.”

andy-farrell-during-the-post-match-press-conference Andy Farrell after Sunday's game. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

They should get that easily enough – providing the game goes ahead as scheduled.

Whoever Ireland’s next opponent is – Italy or France – Farrell’s team selection will be fascinating, the coach admitting the performances of his replacements, all of whom made a positive impact in the closing quarter of Sunday’s game, has given him ‘food for thought’ ahead of the final two rounds of the championship.
“We won’t assess it rashly, we’ll make sure we will do the right thing by the team and do what we have to do to get the right performance against Italy.”

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The temptation to go for a 6:2 bench split isn’t for him – at least not yet. “When you do something like that, you thank your lucky stars (if you get away with it) as far as injuries are concerned,” he said.

Deep down, it’s the first 60 minutes of Sunday’s defeat that concern him more. “There are reasons why people get themselves into the game in a physical way and most of that is through access,” Farrell said. “Their tactics were pretty clear. They wanted to get some field position but also to give the forwards something to hit. 

“We sent our forwards into some dark alleys at times and I suppose they gained confidence from that. We gave them the access to do that.

ronan-kelleher-under-pressure-2322020 Farrell says the Irish forwards were sent into some dark alleys. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We have to learn from that and learn from the fact the speed of our ball was poor in the first half.

“We played with a little bit more width in the last 20 minutes and we got on the front foot in that period, too. Caelan (Doris) did well when he came on. He hit the line really nicely at times and Ross (Byrne) did pretty well, John (Cooney) did pretty well but I suppose they would sense an opportunity on the back of things not going well for us as a team. I’m disappointed we didn’t play our best rugby until the game was over.”

john-cooney Farrell thought Cooney played well on Sunday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Farrell also issued a warning shot to France, not in terms of what Ireland will do to them, more to remind them of what the Scots are capable of at Murrayfield.

“There will be ups and downs in their competition as well, so it’s up to us to make sure that when we go to Paris that we prevent France playing the game they want to. But first things first, let’s make sure we get the right attitude, right intent and right result against Italy.”

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Garry Doyle

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