Farrell faces up to the toughest test for a defence coach in rugby

The All Blacks have scored 68 tries in their 12 Tests so far this year.

THERE AREN’T TOO many people with tougher rugby jobs than Andy Farrell this week ahead of Ireland’s clash with the All Blacks.

Well, that’s not quite true.

There are the 46 players who will take to the pitch and deliver the kind of physical effort that we have come to take for granted, unleashing tackles and carries that the vast majority of us simply couldn’t handle.

Andy Farrell Andy Farrell will ask his player for a huge physical effort. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

But Farrell’s task – trying to stop the All Blacks’ attack – is hugely demanding nonetheless.

The Kiwis have scored 68 tries in their 12 matches so far this year.
5.66 tries a game, on average.

There was only one last weekend against England in a 16-15 win but the torrential downpour that ensured the Twickenham encounter was never going to be high-scoring shouldn’t be a factor this weekend in Dublin.

Farrell knows just how big a job he has on his hands.

“It is, there’s no doubt about that,” said Farrell yesterday when asked if facing the All Blacks is the greatest test a defence coach can face.

“The reality of what we’re coming up against this weekend is that they are the best attack in world rugby. That’s probably one of the main reasons why they are on top of the tree.”

Of some comfort to Ireland is that Farrell has been on the coaching ticket of three teams that have beaten the All Blacks.

He was with England in 2012, part of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland set-up in Chicago in 2016 and helped the Lions to a second Test victory over the New Zealanders in 2017.

Farrell is quick to remind us that he’s lost to the All Blacks more often than he’s won, and he stresses the qualities that make them as great a threat as ever this weekend.

New Zealand's Rieko Ioane Rieko Ioane has scored 22 tries in 22 Tests. Inpho / Billy Stickland Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

“Their ability to stay calm and stick to the processes and not panic, play good territory, hit people on the break, play at speed,” he said.

“All the guys are comfortable on the ball, they’re all good attacking players. Even their front rowers have got a good feel for time and space.   

“They’ve been playing their system for quite some time now. They’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. They’re just very good at what they do.”

One of the threats Farrell hasn’t had to plan for this week is Sonny Bill Williams, ruled out of the weekend’s encounter due to a shoulder issue.

However, the less-heralded Ryan Crotty is a superb player and showed his class off the bench yet again in Twickenham last weekend.

“Ryan Crotty, whether he plays 12 or 13, he’s a target man for them, like Sonny Bill is as well,” said Farrell. “He does take the ball, present the ball quickly the next phase.

“He’s got good feet at the line, there’s no doubt about that. He’s playing in a system that he’s used to and Crusaders have been so successful in the last couple of years.

“Do they lose something? Anybody would lose something in Sonny Bill but Crotty is a hell of a player.”

Ensuring their midfield is rock solid will be vital for Ireland, particularly as the All Blacks run so many of their set-piece attacks into that area.

The manner in which Matías Orlando cut in between Johnny Sexton and Bundee Aki in the lead-up to Bautista Delguy’s try for Argentina last weekend was concerning, but Ireland have been working to shore that zone up.

Andy Farrell and Garry Ringrose Garry Ringrose is set for his return this weekend. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“It is a concern if you wouldn’t like anyone to break through, especially from a set-piece,” said Farrell. “There’s a few lads that are finding solutions for that and hopefully we will be more connected and finish the tackle entry off.”

The likelihood of having Garry Ringrose back at outside centre should be a boost to Ireland’s defence, with the 23-year-old set to start again after recovering from the hip issue that kept him out of the Argentina game.

“It is probably the hardest position on the field to defend,” said Farrell of the 13 channel.

“What Garry has got, he has got a feel for space. He knows when to put the pedal down and put the pressure on at the right time but he also knows when he is in that little bit of trouble and giving himself time and space and he is normally good at making those decisions.”

Conor Murray remains on the sidelines, however, as his recovery from a neck issue continues.

The Munster scrum-half has been a key part of Ireland’s defence in their biggest wins in recent years, but Farrell is confident that Ireland’s other nines can show their value in this area against the All Blacks.

“Ah, he is a big man isn’t he?” said Farrell of Murray. “He is a like an extra inside back and he has got some real energy but having said that obviously Conor is very comfortable in his own skin and he directs the players around him defensively and he slots in in the right places defensively and puts his body on the line.

“Could you ask that of the others? They all do that. You look at Kieran Marmion and the way he throws his body around. It’s the same with Luke [McGrath] and Coons [John Cooney].

“They are the same type of animal. They are not nines who have fear of contact, so we are okay there.”

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