Billy Stickland/INPHO Farrell has made nine changes to his starting XV for this weekend.
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'We're glad to grow the playing pool' - Farrell asks for a calmer Ireland
The head coach is excited about the nine changes he has made for Georgia.

WHILE HIS CRITICS will argue that Andy Farrell has missed a chance for more change over the course of the Autumn Nations Cup, the Ireland head coach says he’s happy with his efforts to expand the national team’s depth across 2020.

He has made nine personnel changes to his team for Sunday’s clash with Georgia in Dublin, with replacement Shane Daly set to become the 10th new cap Farrell has handed out during his first year in charge of Ireland.

Billy Burns will make his first Test start at out-half, Stuart McCloskey comes into the starting XV for his fourth cap, while Hugo Keenan and Will Connors will earn their fifth on the wing and at openside flanker, respectively. 

13-times capped Finlay Bealham – usually a tighthead prop – will make his first Test start at loosehead, with Ed Byrne injured and Farrell opting against pressing the uncapped Eric O’Sullivan into action after his first Ireland call-up at the start of this week.

Caelan Doris, Ronan Kelleher, Max Deegan, Keenan, Connors, Ed Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park, James Lowe, and Burns have all won their first caps this year, with Daly set for his on Sunday.

“This is an opportunity for us to grow the playing pool,” said Farrell. “Unless we find out and give people the opportunity, how do they gain the experience?

“Having said that, you don’t come with a plan saying ‘We’re going to cap 10 players’ – opportunity arises for players regarding injuries.

“We’re glad to grow the pool and find out about people. Then, when it comes to the Six Nations after Christmas, hopefully that pool has grown and you’ve got a few more headaches along the way.”

Indeed, Farrell’s hand has been forced by injuries to the likes of Tadhg Furlong, Dave Kilcoyne, Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, Jordan Larmour, and others in recent times.

shane-daly Dan Sheridan / INPHO Shane Daly is set for his first cap off the bench. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

He has clearly been attempting to balance the fresher faces with experienced heads, explaining why the likes of 85-times capped Conor Murray and 56-times capped Iain Henderson come into the team to face Georgia.

“There’s some good combinations there with Billy, Stu [McCloskey] and Jacob [Stockdale] at fullback,” said Farrell of his selection. “They know each other pretty well [from Ulster].

“Looking at Conor with his experience, regarding Billy playing his first game – that’s always going to be interesting for us.

“We’re excited about this team going out and giving a performance and righting a few wrongs from last week.

“The obvious ones are getting some continuity from our set-piece. When we’re given the amount of possession that we had, making sure we play with our heads up and see the opportunities. Deliver on executing those opportunities.”

James Ryan is one of those who goes again after the defeat in Twickenham last time out, this clash with Georgia giving him a second opportunity to captain the side. 

Tighthead prop Andrew Porter starts for the fifth consecutive game with Furlong missing, despite playing 80 minutes against England. Farrell said Ireland are very conscious of managing their players and that Porter has had “a couple of days off this week.”

There was temptation to give 22-year-old hooker Ronan Kelleher another start as Ireland go about remedying their lineout issues but Farrell felt that Rob Herring and replacement Dave Heffernan deserved chances too.

The Ireland boss is excited to see how 26-year-old Burns plays on his first start following his impressive chip for Stockdale’s try in his cameo off the bench at Twickenham.

billy-burns Dan Sheridan / INPHO Billy Burns will be at out-half. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Billy is an attacking threat, he isn’t just a ball-handling or kicking threat, he’s an attacking threat at the line as well. He can take people on, he’s got a turn of speed and a bit of explosiveness about him as well.

“Hopefully, he can bring a bit of that as well as some guidance of being able to marshall the team around the field because obviously at 10 that’s one he’ll get judged on.”

His combination with McCloskey in the 12 shirt should help both players, with the big centre eager to shine on his first Ireland outing since November 2018.

“I’ve asked Stuey to be patient, to keep training well, which he has done throughout this campaign,” said Farrell.

“We’re asking him to be himself and not to be too desperate, you know? We’re asking him to play the game that’s in front of him – don’t have too many preconceived ideas and make sure he’s able to deliver what we know he can do.”

Farrell is enthusiastic about Tadhg Beirne’s rugby smarts, ball-handling skill, and poaching threat from blindside flanker too, saying that Ireland see him as “a six/second row”.

While everyone in Ireland camp has been keen to underline how physical Georgia will be, the reality is that they will have been focusing on themselves this week after Twickenham, with clear areas for improvement – including their composure.

“Everyone outside the circle always talks about physicality in big games and sometimes physicality can take over your mindset and you’re not calm enough to be able to see what the game is throwing at you,” said Farrell.

“100% I thought we were physical, I thought we were courageous at times actually, but sometimes I thought that got in the way of our calmness to be able to see the opportunities and be able to execute on those opportunities.”

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