Farrell hopes the best is yet to come as Ireland close in on Triple Crown

Ireland are looking to win their first silverware under Andy Farrell when they host Scotland on Saturday.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell.
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a year makes. Think back to last year’s Six Nations Championship, where you had an Ireland team trying to convince those outside the bubble of international camp that there was nothing to worry about.

The team were struggling on the pitch, with an attack which looked limited – and at times rudderless – raising serious questions about the direction in which Andy Farrell’s side were heading, the head coach himself admitting he was concerned about his squad’s struggle in converting possession into points. The players backed their coach, repeatedly stressing that they had full faith in the system Farrell was looking to develop.

The final day win over England finally provided them with some evidence to back up the talk, Ireland delivering a clinical, exciting attacking display to blitz their way past a team who had become something of a bogey side for men in green jerseys.

This year, they head into the final day of Six Nations action 80 minutes away from landing a first Triple Crown since 2018, with a championship title still possible depending on events in Paris later on Saturday night. 

Farrell’s stock as a head coach in that time has risen dramatically. He’s now masterminded a superb win against the All Blacks, beaten England home and away and transformed Ireland into one of the most entertaining – and productive – international sides around. While others were questioning his methods, Farrell kept the faith and stuck to the plan. 

“It takes time, if you have got a way of wanting to play,” Farrell says.

You’ve got to be able to gradually do that. Are we there? No. I don’t think we are. Are we getting better? Yes, yes we are. So the lads are working unbelievably hard to try and own their own plan and that’s when you see the progress.” 

There has been growth and progress all over the park, the attack taking most of the plaudits while the defence has also become a real area of strength – Ireland currently boasting the best points for and lowest points against returns in the championship.

Questions remain around squad depth in some positions – most notably out-half and loosehead – but others have come in and added to the competition for places, with Mack Hansen and Michael Lowry proving themselves to be quality options across the back three. 

Hansen is back in the starting team to play Scotland tomorrow having missed out on the win against England, the Connacht flyer returning on the wing in place of the injured Andrew Conway. Fullback Hugo Keenan and his Leinster teammate James Lowe – two of the standout performers in Twickenham – complete a lethal, dynamic back three.

“I thought James played really well at the weekend, he’s not played too many games and that’ll be great for him to step up a notch this weekend,” Farrell continues.

“Hugo was immense and he’s really grown his game, it’s great – you guys asked Hugo the question yourselves, you look how well Michael Lowry is doing, the type of pressure that puts on the likes of Hugo is pressure that you want.

You see people responding in the way that they should do, when they take to the field the next time and perform like he did. That’s what a competitive squad is all about. Those two did really well.

As impressive as Conway has been, Hansen’s return makes that back three a particularly exciting prospect for Ireland supporters this weekend.

“Mack, we know what he brings. We’ve only seen him three times in an Irish shirt, but we know what he brings. He links unbelievably well, he’s got a good feel for a winger, he creates an extra pair of hands, an extra nous of where the space is. He’s quick and he’s a good finisher.

“He’s improving all the time, how to be an international player, and this type of experience on Saturday will be priceless for him.

“He’s very calm, sometimes horizontal actually. But, he’s able to deal with the pressure extremely well. He knows himself, he knows his game, he does the work to understand our game as well and he’s able to go out there and produce.”

mack-hansen Mack Hansen is back in the team to play Scotland on Saturday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The likes of Hansen, Lowe, Dan Sheehan and Caelan Doris represent the new Ireland, a team built on an all-action, free-flowing gameplan, where the onus is on the players to make the right decisions on the pitch. There are still some chinks in the armour, but however Saturday plays out, this group have made significant progress under Farrell over the past 12 months. 

Ireland have previously been accused of peaking too far out from World Cups, but at the moment it feels there is more to come from this group of players, with this Six Nations throwing up enough questions to keep the coaching staff busy. 

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Ireland struggled to make the most of their numerical advantage against both Wales and Italy, were guilty of a slow start at a vibrant Stade de France and saw the penalty count climb as the scrum creaked against 14-man England.

“We made plenty of make breaks and there are opportunities we created and didn’t take advantage of at the weekend (against England),” Farrell adds.

“We were frustrated with ourselves because we left a few out there and so there is always work-ons. There is always stuff that you have to be careful of, that you think you’re progressing and then all of a sudden, you know, you start getting ahead of yourselves. That’s not the right thing either.

“We make sure we keep ourselves in check and keep ourselves in the right mindset and understand where we can get better, and that’s across all areas of attack. Our skills are never going to be good enough in that regard, that’s exciting for us moving forward.” 

Ireland internationals Devin Toner and Lindsay Peat were our guests for The Front Row’s special live event, in partnership with Guinness, this week. The panel chats through Ireland’s championship chances ahead of the final round of Guinness Six Nations matches, and members of the Emerald Warriors – Ireland’s first LGBT+ inclusive rugby team – also join us to talk about breaking down barriers in rugby. Click here to subscribe or listen below:

Source: The42/SoundCloud

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Ciarán Kennedy

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