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Details remain for Farrell's Ireland, but intense focus has shifted elsewhere

‘Sometimes we’re seeing it and not executing and sometimes we’re not seeing it and running into brick walls.’

Henshaw in training last week.
Henshaw in training last week.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

UNDER JOE SCHMIDT ‘detail’ became a cliche synonymous with Ireland’s international rugby team.

Who are you blocking on that kick? Which side of the ruck are you arriving at? Whose shoulder are you on in phase five?

Details, details, details. And the minutiae meant everything.

First week in camp? Know your detail.

Impressive array of skills? Great, but just know your detail.

First-choice regular? That’s because you know your detail.

Scored a hat-trick? Oh, boy! Your details are in for serious scrutiny now.

Through Andy Farrell’s first year the word was ushered to one side. Replaced by the new head coach’s call for players to be adaptable and the players routinely signalling how much they were enjoying the new regime.

Unfortunately for Farrell, the details have been missed in recent weeks and stuttering displays have brought on pangs for the old methods.

Of course, it’s not quite as black and white as Farrell unlocking the shackles of ‘details’ and flinging them out into the shipping lanes. He is attempting to take the mechanical, prescribed look off Ireland’s attack and give players license to add their own style to the team’s.

It just hasn’t worked.

“We have been doing our detail, have been getting it right and it’s just about our decision making on the back of that detail,” said Robbie Henshaw, whose presence back in the side this weekend will be a detail Scotland won’t overlook.

“We focus on our drills, set piece – that’s the bit of detail everyone needs to know. When you get into phaseplay that’s when the detail is broken down and you have to play what’s on.

“For us, that’s where we’re going. We want to be able to keep building, keep seeing where the opportunities unfold as we go through phases.”

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There have been occasions since Test rugby resumed – albeit in flashes against weaker sides Italy and Georgia – when Ireland’s attack has clicked into potent fluidity. Perhaps serious Tests like France and then England away arrived too soon in the building process and instead set the project back.

Captain Jonathan Sexton is adamant progress has been made and that the new details will bear fruit given time.

“There’s definitely a lot of detail in what we’re doing and that’s what’s getting us the opportunities,” said the skipper who also returns to fitness for the Autumn Nations Cup third-place play-off, a showdown against Scotland.

“The way we haven’t finished some of them, the amount of time we’ve had in opposition 22 and haven’t capitalised, that’s us not executing.

Sometimes we’re seeing it and not executing and sometimes we’re not seeing it and running into brick walls.”

All that said, Sexton does then admit that the focus has shifted away from some of the finer points that made the operation run so efficiently in 2018.

“There’s definitely massive improvements we can make in some areas of our game.

andy-farrell-and-mike-catt Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Sometimes when you’re trying a new shape and a new way of playing, sometimes you can lose sight of the smaller details. When you come through with the bigger stuff, then you can start to refocus on the small details.

 ”At the start, maybe we got away from it because we were trying some new shape stuff and we were thinking bigger picture.

“The perfect combination is being able to do both.”

Schmidt wasn’t able to strike the balance. His high-tempo style at Leinster quickly became a more conservative and prosaic approach designed to grind out international success.

It’s a tall order for Farrell to enact the reverse transition. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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Sean Farrell

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