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Munster and Ireland scrum-half Craig Casey.
Munster and Ireland scrum-half Craig Casey.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

'If he gets his chance he'll certainly be ready' - Farrell backs Casey to debut against Italy

The Munster scrum-half is set to win his first cap against Italy on Saturday.
Feb 25th 2021, 1:27 PM 9,465 12

IRELAND HEAD COACH Andy Farrell says Craig Casey is ready to make the step up to Test rugby after naming the Munster scrum-half on the bench for the second game running.

Casey was the only player in the matchday squad not to make it onto the pitch in the round two defeat to France, but is expected to debut in Saturday’s Six Nations meeting with Italy in Rome.

The 21-year-old keeps his place in the squad as Conor Murray misses out again with a hamstring problem.

“We made a decision on Conor quite early because he’s still got a few days to go,” Farrell said. “But he’s progressing well, we made the decision early there with him. So he hasn’t done much training this week.”

Farrell said he has has been hugely impressed with how Casey has reacted to being left on the bench against France, noting the player’s attitude in camp either side of a superb performance for Munster last weekend.

“He’s been great, he’s like a sponge,” Farrell said.

“He’s at the front of the class with his notepad the whole time, taking everything in. His attitude is infectious.

“I was very impressed with his mature attitude in the sense that he would have been upset, and rightly so, at not getting any minutes when he thought he was going to get his debut against France.

“Then he goes back to Munster, dusts himself down and plays really well in poor conditions in Edinburgh.

“You can’t promise anything in international sport, but if he gets his chance he’ll certainly be ready.”

Casey won’t be the only player out to impress in an Ireland team which has an experimental feel to it. 

An all-Leinster backline sees Jordan Larmour make his first Test start in a year, with Gibson-Park winning his fourth start in green as the chopping and changing continues in the half-backs. Saturday’s game will be just the second time Gibson-Park has started alongside his Leinster team-mate Johnny Sexton at this level.

In the front-row, Dave Kilcoyne and Ronan Kelleher have just 10 starts between them, despite being at very different stages of their international careers, while Tadhg Beirne’s fine form sees him moved into the backrow as James Ryan returns to partner Iain Henderson in the second row.

Will Connors makes the staring XV for the first time since the November win over Georgia, while Ryan Baird is set to debut off the bench.

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ryan-baird-and-ronan-kelleher Ryan Baird and Ronan Kelleher during Ireland training this week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With Ireland struggling to implement their gameplan across the campaign so far, many of Farrell’s squad will see this game as a genuine opportunity to stake their claim for the bigger tests that lie ahead against Scotland and England.

“There’s some guys coming back in, some guys that have played a few more games under their belt and have played themselves into form and then some guys that deserve a chance as well,” Farrell said.

“All in all, we feel this is the best side for this weekend against Italy.” 

Italy have a woeful record in the Six Nations, with their last win in the competition coming back in 2015. It’s been another difficult start to the current campaign for the Azzurri, shipping 91 points in defeats to France and England.

However, Farrell says recent scorelines haven’t been accurate reflections of how Italy have progressed under Franco Smith.

“Italy are playing really well, anyone who knows anything about the game who has analysed their game – they’re moving in the right direction and they will want to have a say as well,” he said.

“You hear reports and you look at scorelines and you make it out (results) to be something that is completely isn’t. 

“In the French game, the French were very clinical. First game of the competition, Italy tried to show their brand of rugby, their expansive game and France doing what they do with a good set-piece, good territory and kicking game – tried to hit them on the counter.

“They had quite a few chances and they converted most of them, they were very clinical.

“I thought Italy improved the week after, the English found them tough to break down.

“They’ve got some really dangerous backs. Strong, fast, dangerous backs who like to play in an expansive game and we have to go with the right attitude.

“A couple of years ago, I felt we didn’t get the blend right over there and it came across as sloppy at times. Last year at the Aviva, I thought our attitude was spot on and hopefully we can do the same in Rome on Saturday.” 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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