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'That’s one of the worst-case scenarios that you can see on a rugby field'

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell reflects on Sunday’s defeat of 13-man Italy and looks forward to a round four trip to Twickenham.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell.
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Mar 1st 2022, 8:31 AM

FOLLOWING AN UNDERWHELMING Six Nations win against Italy on Sunday, Ireland’s focus quickly switches to a massive Twickenham date with England on 12 March.

England v Ireland is always a box-office fixture, and naturally, the prospect of coming up against Eddie Jones’ men was the hot topic during Andy Farrell’s post-game press conference after the Ireland boss watched his side put nine tries on 13-man Italy.

We’ll get to that shortly, but first, Farrell offered his take on the bizarre events which unfolded during the first half, as Kieran Crowley’s Italian side were reduced to 13 men due to a lesser known rule in the World Rugby lawbook – injury to starting hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi followed by a red card for replacement No2 Hame Faiva resulting in uncontested scrums and Italy having to remove another player from the pitch.

The rules are the rules, but safe to say this one did Ireland, Italy or the paying customer no favours as the game descended into an increasingly frustrating watch.

“The rule was applied in the correct way,” Farrell said.

“I know there’s a lot of confusion, a lot of sorting out. It took quite some time, didn’t it, because there were so many permutations that had to happen. I thought Matthew Carley on the sideline, the AR, was spot on with what the rule says etc.

“You spend time, us as coaches, going through the what-ifs and I suppose that’s one of the worst-case scenarios that you can see on a rugby field.

“It’s weird. I go back to the 100-minute game in Paris, Wales v France (2017), and there was a melee there and there have been melees just after that and something was done to stop uncontested scrums, or coaches trying to relieve pressure etc.

“I don’t want to say what’s wrong or right because that’s for the powers-that-be but, as far as the spectacle is concerned, it doesn’t add to the game in my opinion.

The reason the game is so special is because it caters for all sorts. The reason why we all love the game is because the traditional part of the game is set-piece and the set-piece is there for a reason.

“It takes a hell of a lot of work to put into scrummaging, mauling, lineout etc but when it’s uncontested like that for so long the game is completely different. When you’re down to 13 men there is only one thing you’re going to try to do, isn’t there, which is hang on for dear life, kick the ball as much as you can and try and slow the game down as much as you possibly can. I think we all saw that.”

It’s hard to tell how much Farrell will read into the whole experience. While some newer faces impressed – such as debutant Michael Lowry and second-row Ryan Baird – their performances have to come with an asterisk given the strange nature of the game. The question is whether a good day out against 13-man Italy is enough to push a player up the queue for selection against England.

a-view-of-an-uncontested-scrum Italy's early red card led to uncontested scrums. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Well they can, because you look at Josh van der Flier’s performance and you look at Ryan Baird’s performance and a good few others, they managed to perform really well under the circumstances and they were able to adapt and be themselves etc, so you can be but, having said that, it is what is,” Farrell said.

“We’ll judge the game for what it is and we’ll judge the personnel for the performance that they put out there. We’ll look at how we were collectively together, most importantly, and we’ll make some decisions at the beginning of the England week.”

Others will feel they could have had a greater impact against the Azzurri. Joey Carbery, making just his second Six Nations start, made a bright start to the game but then saw his influence fade, with Johnny Sexton’s introduction in the second half noticeably lifting the tempo of Ireland’s play.

“I think it’s [criticism] a little unfair on Joey. It’s not just down to Joey, obviously played very well I thought. Craig (Casey) played very well when he come as well. He sped the game up a little bit. 

It isn’t just down to the halves, it’s down to the whole of the backline really to see where the space is but, having said that, that’s why it’s so important for Joey to start the game, so he could feel the preparation going into the game and handle the situations in the first half, rather than coming on for the last 10 minutes. It’s priceless for him.”  

The win against England on the final weekend of last year’s championship felt like a statement performance from Farrell’s side given some of their struggles in the previous rounds of the tournament.

His team have been on an upward curve ever since, their defeat in France on 12 February ending a nine-game winning run. Despite the lacklustre performance against Italy, Ireland will travel to Twickenham fully confident of securing a first win in London since 2018.

But what about Eddie Jones’ men?

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andy-farrell Farrell watches Joey Carbery during the warm-up ahead of Sunday's defeat of Italy. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

England currently third in the Six Nations table, one point behind Ireland, and are something of a work in progress at the moment. Jones has repeatedly outlined his aim is having the team peak at next year’s World Cup, but their own development since last year’s championship has been less revolutionary than Ireland’s shift to a new-look, all-action gameplan.

“I think I see a lot of more of the same,” Farrell said of England.

It is that DNA that Eddie has had at England for the whole time that he’s been there, which is that they’re very good set-piece wise, they’re very good at spoiling your set-piece and they’re always tenacious in the carry and their linespeed.

“Obviously Richard Cockerill (forwards coach) will bring his own piece to the party there. I know Martin Gleeson (attack coach) well, and I know that he’ll try and add a little bit of spark here, there and everywhere in the attack. 

“They had a couple of new half-backs playing at the weekend (v Wales) so they’ll be better off for that game and obviously a big game at Twickenham, everyone knows that there’s a lot on the line, so they’re going to be really up for that, just as we are.

“Everyone knows how difficult is is to go to Twickenham anyway, so we know that we’ll need to be at our best. There’s no saying any other way, is there really? Two teams that have to win to stay in contention for the competition says it all.”  

Comedian Michael Fry is our special guest on this week’s episode of The Front Row, in partnership with Guinness. Joining host Seán Burke, Eimear Considine and Murray Kinsella, he chats about his family’s rugby background and his short-lived playing days, before using his musical ear to rank the anthems of each Guinness Six Nations team. Click here to subscribe or listen below:

Source: The42/SoundCloud

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Ciarán Kennedy

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