Still in contention: 'The scoreline puts us in the position that we needed to be in'

Andy Farrell praised Italy’s tenacity and also his players’ ability to boost their points difference.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Updated Feb 27th 2022, 5:43 PM

IRELAND COACH ANDY Farrell was quick to dish out the praise to Italy after they managed to avoid a complete catastrophe in today’s bizarre Six Nations encounter at the Aviva Stadium.

A flaw in the game’s laws saw Italy reduced to 13 men rather than 14 when their replacement hooker, Epalahame Faiva, was red-carded for a high tackle on Dan Sheehan.

As the starting hooker, Gianmarco Lucchesi, had suffered a suspected broken arm, Italy could not contest scrums. The game’s law thereby insists upon another player being replaced – a rule that was brought into operation to prevent front-row players faking injury in games where they were being out-scrummaged.

Clearly, this flaw will now need to be corrected after today’s game descended into farce.

“It was a strange old game,” Farrell admitted, “with Italy going down to 13 men and then to 12 men (for the final eight minutes).

“I thought we were inconsistent and sloppy at times.

“The lads are a little bit flat in the dressing room in reaction to that result.

“But you look at the scoreboard, 57-6, we got out of it what we wanted. It took us a while just to calm down and see the game for what it was. We thought there was space everywhere and we were making poor decisions on the back of that. 

“Still, this scoreline puts us in a good position as far as the points difference is concerned. Now we move onto the next two matches that we need to win to be in contention for winning the competition.”

michael-lowry-celebrates-with-his-mother-denise-and-sister-zara-after-the-game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Asked if he wanted to see a more competitive game this afternoon, Farrell replied: “It is weird, a strange old situation, as strange for us as it was for them. We know why the law came in; there was a game that went on for over 100 minutes. As a sport, we changed the rule to prevent that happening again and I suppose it takes a game like today’s for us to have another look at it properly.

“Let’s face it, the game went stale today. They slowed the game down as they had to.

“Still, I thought they were incredibly brave, Italy. When it was 15 against 15 they were really good; when they went down to 13 men, they were abrasive in defence, they put us under huge pressure, and some of our skills were not good enough. They were really tough at the breakdown so they gave us plenty to ponder on.”

The Ireland coach made an interesting point about how the uncontested scrums worked to Italy’s advantage in the sense that ‘everyone’s legs were nice and fresh’ which was why they were ‘tenacious in defence, even when they went to 12 men’.

“The space that you think is there, they’re going to throw caution to the wind and they did some kamikaze style defence at times, flying off the line and hitting us man-and-ball, putting our skills under pressure, and we needed to be calm and accurate. In the second half we hit a few more front doors, rather than throwing it out the back, and got some quick ball ourselves, managing to get some much needed points in the end.”

Plus there were plenty of stand-outs: “Josh (van der Flier) motors on, doesn’t he? And Mikey Lowry (pictured above) got his two tries on his debut.

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“He could have got his third but it says a lot about him that he gave a pass out instead to James (Lowe) when he had the opportunity to score a hat-trick.

“I thought he was great, lively and as brave as we knew he was going to be. I think getting the two tries and then getting the space to score his third and passing it on to his mate James Lowe in the corner typifies what Mikey is all about.

 “Everybody involved in the squad, the management and the players are absolutely made up for Mikey, his mum, his sister and his girlfriend. It was a big day for them.”

Next up for Ireland is England at Twickenham in two weeks time. “It is a game for us to stay in the competition. If we want to be contenders (for the Six Nations title) going into the last week, we have to go there and win.

 “We know that they’re going to come hard at us, and Italy came hard off the line at times today and we weren’t composed enough so we need to be a little bit more accurate there. We know that they like to kick the ball for territory a lot, the same as what they’ve done for the last couple of seasons.

“I thought they were good against Wales, dominant as far as territory is concerned and they thoroughly deserved their half-time lead. But I suppose like us there will be plenty for them to ponder on in the next couple of weeks.”

Farrell also confirmed that Robbie Henshaw is undergoing head injury assessment protocols – ‘but he looks fine’ while Andrew Porter was nursing a bit of an ankle strain. “He went over on his ankle slightly,” Farrell said. “He was running it off and he would have been able to carry on but we thought we’d get him off at that stage.”

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Garry Doyle

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