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Farrell wary of over-loading Test schedule around November

There are many unknowable variables as Covid-19 spreads, but Farrell hopes that player welfare concerns are maintained and Ireland avoid playing five Tests in five weeks.

Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Updated Mar 10th 2020, 8:05 AM

STRANGE TIMES INDEED and Andy Farrell helped to illustrate the oddity.

Sitting down for a press conference he was not scheduled to give, it was initially he who was asking questions as the IRFU press officer gave updates of what games were off the board, and which were left standing. For now.

All anyone knew for sure was that sense had prevailed and the Six Nations match in Paris was postponed a day after French authorities barred gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

Farrell’s players had trained in Abbottstown yesterday morning working under the assumption that they had a match to prepare for and a Championship to chase.

By this evening, however, the squad will disperse again. Back to provincial duty – however much of it Covid-19 will allow – and out of the Test headspace for another few months.

Even the summer tour in Australia can’t be looked forward to as a cast-iron run of fixtures. There are more important healthcare issues on both sides of the globe to consider before July.

Farrell was willing to look further ahead, to October, inviting and welcoming the prospect of rescheduling postponed Six Nations matches for Halloween before Ireland’s November Tests.

However, the head coach is not keen on slotting both of Ireland’s remaining fixtures directly around the November window. The compound interest of fatigue is relatively easy to predict and would prove to be too taxing if five Tests are to be rattled off in a row.

“That would be five games over the autumn. I don’t know whether that’s going to happen. Four is difficult enough, four on the bounce is difficult enough,” said Farrell.

“Teams always try to schedule their November for a Tier Two (team between Tier one fixtures) or whatever which gives a developmental flavour to the November calendar.

We don’t know what’s going to happen. We presume that certainly one game will be played around that period but we haven’t had anything confirmed.”

The head coach notes that he wouldn’t flatly turn down the prospect of playing on five consecutive weekends, but with World Cup 2023 seeding to be decided by ranking after November, somebody else in the IRFU might be tasked with crying foul over a hectic schedule.

Personally for the new head coach, back-to-back postponements must be deeply disappointing. Particularly for one who suffered his first loss in the hot-seat to a team led by his own son. He and his players will have to wait before getting a chance to right wrongs from Twickenham, but the head coach is philosophical as he deals with the unknowable.

“It is what it is, as a head coach you have to deal with everything that goes your way and this is unprecedented, really, but it’s part of the job.

Yeah, you’ve got to expect the unexpected and just get on with it.”

Questions on the status of other games, scheduling of the postponed matches and how the calendar will all pan out in the medium to long-term led Farrell to one overriding theme.

“I suppose we’re all guessing at this moment in time.”

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Sean Farrell

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