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'If you try to run before you can walk, you end up standing for nothing'

Andy Farrell continues to push his defensive thinking forward.

ON WEDNESDAY, TWO of the game’s highest-rated defensive minds met in Limerick.

Andy Farrell, Ireland’s defence coach, sat down with Jacques Nienaber, Munster’s defensive specialist. Listening in on that conversation would surely have been an invaluable educational experience.

Andy Farrell Farrell at the University of Limerick on Wednesday. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Farrell built his reputation with Saracens and England, before taking accepting an offer to become Joe Schmidt’s assistant this year. His impact helped Ireland to their first-ever Test win in South Africa in June, despite playing much of that victory with 14 men.

Nienaber’s standing was built in South Africa with Western Province, the Stormers and various national sides. He was Springboks defence coach as recently as June – against Ireland and Farrell – with the SARU fighting hard to prevent him from joining Munster.

“We had a great day with him,” says Farrell, who was joined at Munster’s training session by Greg Feek and Simon Easterby.

We’re very similar in certain aspects. We didn’t get a week together, so didn’t go into too much detail, but Jacques is very open, as am I, as are all the defence coaches in the provinces.”

Farrell is firm in his beliefs about what goes into creating a good defence, though he finds these meetings of minds with other coaches to be beneficial.

Both Nienaber and Farrell are deeply focused on the quality of the individual tackle, the utter importance of excellent technique in the skill, but these sessions with other coaches often help him to evolve.

The impression of Farrell’s defence was always that it was about destruction, aggression, obliteration – but he says it has morphed and changed in the last number of years.

“It has, it has. Hopefully for the better. You learn a lot as you go and one of the great things about this job, whether it be in England or Ireland… we’re going around the provinces at this moment in time and everyone is very open and wanting to share their philosophies.

Sophie Spence, Andy Farrell and Natalya Coyle Andy Farrell was speaking at the launch of Huddle Dublin. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Why? Because if you talk about your philosophy with someone else, you get to tick a few boxes and go, ‘Yeah, I think that’s right’ or you tweak a few things along the way. You’re always seeking improvement as far as that’s concerned.

“Things have to keep developing within your playing career or coaching career to keep longevity going.”

While development is key, it has been important for Farrell to gradually move Ireland’s defence forward. Throwing a multitude of new ideas at the Irish players before the Test series against the Boks would have welcomed disaster.

Instead, Farrell has built on the foundation Les Kiss left behind.

You have to build,” says the 41-year-old. “You can’t go in gung-ho because if you try to put too much detail on things then the team don’t understand. One of the main points is you have to make sure there is clarity.

“If there are two or three points that you want to see from your side, they have to know what those two or three points are. The detail is so vast that if you try to run before you can walk, you end up standing for nothing. So we have to bed into ourselves.”

Having taken his fair share of criticism after England’s disappointing World Cup campaign in 2015 – a backlash he doesn’t “waste any time thinking about” – Farrell has impressed Ireland’s players greatly in his first six months in the job.

The rugby league legend previously stated that he took the Ireland job because it would allow him the chance to progress as a coach, and learn from Schmidt.

Andy Farrell Farrell has a big November series ahead of him. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“It’s the know-how of the whole game, you know?” says Farrell when asked what he has learned. “To be a great coach you can’t just work in silos, because the [elements of the] game all inter-fold into one another.

“You start off in one area and you try and grow through. I first started as a skills coach, then as a backs coach, then attack coach and then defence.

“Joe’s been through all of that, throughout his career and learned how to galvanise it all in his career and be unbelievably successful as a head coach. So, it’s been very interesting to see how he does that.”

While Farrell – contracted through to the 2019 World Cup – will surely have ambitions to be a head coach in the future, he insists he is happy being an assistant to Schmidt now.

The tours of the provinces are part of the selection process building towards what promises to be a demanding November, the task being to “make history for Ireland.” The first clash with the All Blacks is just eight weeks away now.

We’ve got an unbelievable opportunity to go to such a special occasion in Chicago first up and then we get to see what each other is about there.

“Hopefully, we can give a good account of ourselves [in the] first game of our season and then we play them again in a few weeks time. It’s going to be interesting, and on the back of that [we play] Australia.

“These sides in the Southern Hemisphere, they have probably played seven or eight games coming into the autumn series. It’s going to be tough old task but something has to whet the appetite of any coach or player.”

Andy Farrell, Gary Neville, Pat Lam, Ronan O’Gara and other elite athletes and coaches will line out for Huddle Dublin, a new performance, leadership and networking event taking place on Thursday 29 September at the Aviva Stadium.

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Murray Kinsella

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