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'A lot of people have been asking questions about John Cooney today'

Andy Farrell continues to underline the importance of competition, but is tight-lipped over selection for next week’s Six Nations opener.

Farrell sits for interview in London today.
Farrell sits for interview in London today.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

THE ANNUAL SIX Nations launch places coaches and captains of each team on a veritable carousel for assembled media in London.

From TV to radio, rightsholders to outsiders and then the written press; various degrees of grilling comes from all sides.

For new Ireland head coach Andy Farrell, flanked by new skipper Jonathan Sexton, it was easy to spot a trend appearing across the several interviews he sat down for.

Farrell has signalled from a long way out that competition for places will be a key driver to his team’s motivation. And the form of John Cooney throughout this season has well and truly turned up the heat on Conor Murray – Ireland’s first-choice scrum-half since the 2011 World Cup.

Farrell, perhaps influenced by John Cooney’s failed HIA during the win over Bath, is maintaining a pokerface when it comes to his selection plans.

“I think we’re in a great place, not just at scrum-half but in many positions. I believe all 36 are in good form,” said the man entering his first tournament as a national head coach.

“Competition for places at scrum-half is obviously at a premium as well. A lot of people have been asking questions about John Cooney today, he’s playing really well. He’s really confident and loving his rugby at this moment in time.

“I picked five scrum-halves in the camp before Christmas, Bladey (Caolin Blade) and Jamison (Gibson-Park) were very unlucky to miss out on this squad because they’re playing good rugby as well.

“At the same time, Luke McGrath got man of the match at the weekend, Conor Murray got man of the match at the weekend.

As I said, a big thing for us driving forward is the competition for places and that’s certainly one of those positions.”

The competition for that number 9 shirt can stay on the boil over the weekend before Farrell names his starting line-up then. So the noteworthy culls due to high competition are revealed by those omitted from the squad.

andy-farrell-and-owen-farrell Farrell greets his son, England captain Owen, at the launch today. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Chief among that contingent are Rhys Ruddock and Niall Scannell, who both travelled to the World Cup in Japan but now find themselves outside of a wider group gathered for the Six Nations.

“I gave (Ruddock and Scannell) some feedback, I had some great conversations with them both. I really rate them highly as, not just rugby players, but as people,” Farrell said.

“They know exactly what they need to do to put (their) best foot forward to be up for selection, they’re happy with that feedback.

“Are they happy about not getting selected? Obviously not, they’re ambitious to have a good international career and I look forward to watching them in the coming weeks as well.”

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Sean Farrell

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