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Dublin: 0°C Saturday 23 January 2021

Important run ahead for Ireland as Farrell and Sexton look to learn from Paris

Ireland get back up and running with a home clash against Wales on Friday week.

Farrell and Sexton have been working together for a long time.
Farrell and Sexton have been working together for a long time.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

ANDY FARRELL AND Johnny Sexton are due to speak with the media tomorrow on the day Ireland reconvene to get stuck into their Autumn Nations Cup.

The relief of this autumn schedule is that Ireland can swiftly get back into action after ending their Six Nations campaign on a disappointing, frustrating note in Paris.

Usually, there are long months between Ireland campaigns, with the players returning to their provinces and the national team coaching staff left to stew over things that went wrong or enjoy a breather after success. 

But tomorrow, Sexton and Farrell can publicly deal with the captain’s stroppy reaction to being replaced in Paris, begin to put it behind them, and look forward to what will be an important run of fixtures.

Last weekend in Paris was a lesson for everyone in the Ireland camp – those involved in the lineout errors, the players who made individual mistakes, the coaching staff who perhaps didn’t prepare them as well as they might have, and the skipper – who also made a huge call to go to the corner just before half time.

Sexton is now five games into his time as Ireland captain and pointed out recently that he is learning all the time so recognising that his reaction in Paris wasn’t acceptable will likely be part of that process.

Farrell knows Sexton very well, of course. They first worked together on the 2013 Lions tour when the Englishman made a big impression on the Irish players, leading to them giving him a stamp of approval when Joe Schmidt was looking for a defence coach in 2016.

This year, Farrell turned to Sexton when naming a successor to Rory Best as Ireland captain, though the Ireland head coach has made it clear that it’s not necessarily for the long-term, more so a campaign-by-campaign thing.

Ireland will surely look at leadership as one area they can develop over the coming weeks, with Sexton unlikely to start all four games. The 35-year-old didn’t have a huge amount of recognised leadership around him in Paris.

andrew-conway-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-ross-byrne-and-john-cooney Ireland face Wales on Friday week. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Farrell’s men are back in action on Friday 13 November when they face Wales in Dublin for the first fixture of this makeshift competition.

A visit to Twickenham to face England follows on Saturday 21 November before a clash with Georgia at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday 29 November, then a play-off game against one of France, Scotland, Fiji, or Italy in Dublin on Saturday 5 December. 

Ireland are due to name a new squad this evening or tomorrow morning and it will be fascinating to see whether there is much change from Farrell’s group for the closing two Six Nations games against Italy and France.

The hopefuls will be learning whether they’re in or out over the course of today. No one wants to see Farrell’s name flash up on their phone as he gets in touch with bad news.

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Leinster wing James Lowe will be in the squad as a genuine option given he is eligible to play for Ireland from the Wales game onwards, while uncapped 21-year-old Ryan Baird – who would have featured in the past fortnight but for injury – will hope for caps this autumn too.

Munster back Shane Daly is the only other uncapped player from the Six Nations squad, with Will Connors, Hugo Keenan, Ed Byrne, and Jamison Gibson-Park having all made their debuts.

Farrell has previously included ‘development players’ with his squads but it will be interesting to note whether he includes any of those young guns in his full squad.

Although Ireland ended their 2020 Six Nations in error-strewn fashion in Paris, Farrell will believe they’re not in a too bad a spot.

Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, Garry Ringrose – all three of whom are leaders in the Ireland squad – were absent through injury or suspension last time out.

Jordan Larmour, the previous incumbent at fullback, Keith Earls, Dave Kilcoyne, Will Addison, and uncapped Ulster tighthead Tom O’Toole were also absent due to injury issues when they otherwise would probably have been involved.

irelands-garry-ringrose Garry Ringrose was missed in Paris. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Joey Carbery will be sidelined into 2021 as he continues his rehab of an ankle issue but Farrell would dearly love to have him in the mix, while he will hope Leinster’s Dan Leavy – who had another replacement showing against Glasgow last weekend – continues his recovery strongly.

Even with all of those absentees, Farrell and his coaching staff will believe they missed a big opportunity to win in Paris.

In the likes of Ronan Kelleher, Baird, Caelan Doris, and others, the Ireland boss has exciting young players who have the athletic qualities to really establish themselves at Test level – with several other major prospects now emerging with the Irish provinces.

The Autumn Nations Cup doesn’t involve prize money, while World Rugby rankings are not significant this autumn due to the 2023 World Cup pool draw seedings having already been confirmed.

So these four fixtures are a genuine shot at moving Ireland forward in terms of personnel and with their tactical approach. Don’t expect to see Farrell send a team of kids to Twickenham but there is room for a few tweaks the course of these games, while the home game against Georgia is certainly a chance to experiment.

It feels like a very important campaign for Farrell and Ireland.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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