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Andy Farrell faces into Six Nations camp eager to build some early momentum

A home clash against Scotland provides the new boss with a chance to get off to a good start.

UNDER PREVIOUS REGIMES, the Ireland squad would have gathered last night to get stuck into their preparations for the Six Nations without delay.

Munster and Connacht players would have arrived into camp as soon as possible after playing games yesterday, while Leinster and Ulster men would have at least had an evening at home following their Champions Cup fixtures on Saturday.

Andy Farrell has a different view on how Ireland will operate moving forward. The new head coach is of the mind that his players will benefit from a couple of days to unwind before launching into their Six Nations training.

andy-farrell Farrell's Ireland squad gather tomorrow. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland will instead gather tomorrow and then fly out to Faro in Portugal on Wednesday for a week-long camp before returning to Dublin for the final few days of training ahead of facing Scotland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday 1 February. 

Farrell and his new coaching staff might have been able to bed in a few more details had they asked the Ireland squad to come in last night, but they want players arriving tomorrow bouncing with energy, focus, and hunger. The new era is about to get underway and Farrell knows there is no room for a sluggish start.

Kicking off his reign with a Six Nations campaign means Farrell is straight into the frying pan. His predecessors, Joe Schmidt and Declan Kidney, both had November Test windows to find their feet before winning the championship at their first time of asking, Kidney’s Ireland achieving a Grand Slam.

Few have that expectation of Ireland this year, although they are second-favourites for a championship win behind England. The ambitious Farrell won’t plan on being anything aside from ultra-competitive but he knows well that momentum is vital in the Six Nations and starting strongly at home to Scotland is the sole focus for now.

It will be an intriguing time for Ireland supporters, with so much excitement around the fresh start under Farrell. The intimation from within the camp is that Ireland will have a more relaxed, less structured approach, with new attack coach Mike Catt planning to slowly filter in new ideas and philosophies.

There will be overlap with what has gone before, of course – starting completely anew with just 10 days to prepare for the Scotland game would be lunacy – but we can expect to see at least some glimpses of change in two weekends’ time. Some of that change will come in the personnel.

For starters, there is a new captain in Johnny Sexton, who is set to be fit to face the Scots after being sidelined with a knee injury in recent times. Rory Best’s retirement means there will be a new hooker too, with Rob Herring thought to be the front-runner. 

Farrell’s back row selection will be fascinating. Incumbents Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, and Josh van der Flier are all still in the squad but the new head coach may be of the mind to freshen things up slightly. Caelan Doris’ form at number eight for Leinster is very hard to ignore and the 21-year-old looks ready to step up to Test rugby.

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leinsters-caelan-doris Caelan Doris has been in excellent form. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Scrum-half will be an interesting call too. John Cooney’s performances for Ulster have been excellent but the experienced Conor Murray is playing solid rugby, if less spectacularly than his Ulster rival. Luke McGrath’s superb showing for Leinster against Benetton on Saturday was a reminder of his quality too. 

Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw are vying for the 12 shirt with Garry Ringrose looking nailed-on at 13 thanks to his string of brilliant displays all season. Meanwhile, the back three will involve some close calls.

Will Addison and Jordan Larmour have both laid down tempting claims to the fullback role vacated by Rob Kearney, omitted from the Six Nations squad. Jacob Stockdale and Keith Earls appear favourites to continue on the wings but Andrew Conway, Larmour, and the in-form Dave Kearney provide alternative options.

The truth is that we won’t have a real grasp of Farrell’s selection traits until we get his first team sheet on Tuesday 28 January, the new boss deciding that he will announce his matchday 23s two days earlier than was previously the case. Farrell isn’t going to obsess over the opposition having additional time to analyse his starting XV – he is content to back his players to do the job no matter how early he names them publicly.

Farrell and co. will have a different approach to much of the cultural stuff around the Ireland squad, much of the technical coaching, the tactical approach, the language and feedback used with players.

Whether the fresh feel is a positive thing will ultimately be decided by the results. A positive start against the Scots would ensure momentum into week two at home to Wales and, Farrell will hope, on into the first break weekend before a visit to Twickenham.

But a stuttering start on home soil against a nation Ireland haven’t lost to in Dublin since 2010 and the pressure will immediately be on to ensure redemption when Wayne Pivac’s Wales arrive in Dublin.

Gaining momentum begins as soon as the 35-man squad and Farrell’s four development players gather tomorrow. Everyone is waiting to see what happens next.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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