Billy Stickland/INPHO Bundee Aki celebrates Ireland's big win over Japan.
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Clean bill of health for Ireland as Farrell weighs up All Blacks selection
Ireland will bring some momentum into next weekend’s clash in Dublin.

IT’S ALMOST SEEMS like a marker of Ireland’s dominance against Japan that they have emerged with a clean bill of health on the first assessment of the squad.

Andy Farrell’s men took the visitors apart on a 60-5 scoreline in Dublin this afternoon and, in a relative rarity in Test rugby, were able to report that they hadn’t picked up any injuries of note along the way.

“Isn’t that another good story to tell after a Test match, you would always expect one or two,” said head coach Farrell post-match.

“We managed to get some good game time into lads that needed it and we were also able to get a few lads on, lads who needed game time coming off the bench.”

There will be the usual fatigued bodies tomorrow – Ireland carried the ball for 916 metres – but none of these Irish players will be allowing their coaches to think that they’re anything other than completely ready to take on the All Blacks next weekend.

It’s the game everyone wants to play in and that was illustrated by the impact of Ireland’s bench today. Cian Healy, Conor Murray, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Keith Earls and co. came off the bench determined to remind Farrell of their qualities.

Those who started impressed too, of course.

Andrew Porter shone after his switch over to loosehead prop, Rónan Kelleher rewarded Farrell’s call at hooker, wing pair James Lowe and Andrew Conway showed their class, Jamison Gibson-Park was creative at scrum-half, and the back row of Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, and Jack Conan worked well together.

Now Farrell has to pick a 23 to try and beat the All Blacks next weekend at a sold-out Aviva Stadium.

“I think there is competition all over the park after a performance like that,” said Farrell. “I thought there were some special individual performances. Jack got man of the match but you could have given it to a handful of people.

andy-farrell Dan Sheridan / INPHO Farrell will weigh up changes for the All Blacks clash. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“The pleasing thing is that the first week we came together we worked extremely hard. This week the players really took ownership of what we wanted to achieve. There are some good pictures for us to push forward with for next week against New Zealand as well.”

It will be hard for Farrell to disrupt his winning combination. 

Kelleher will surely start again at hooker as part of the powerful, skillful front row of himself, Porter, and Tadhg Furlong. 

The back row worked as a unit, while Gibson-Park nailed his audition at scrum-half even if Murray is far more experienced. Out wide, Lowe wasn’t tested defensively but showed how much he can contribute to Ireland’s attack.

Farrell could consider a change in the second row, with Henderson putting some pressure on with his lively cameo off the bench. That said, James Ryan captained the team after Johnny Sexton was replaced and Tadhg Beirne brings such a rounded skillset to the party. 

Earls’ experience and defensive nous out wide will be tempting too, so there are a handful of tough calls for Farrell. The Ireland boss didn’t rule Robbie Henshaw out of a return when he was asked about the Leinster centre on Thursday, but it would be a big ask to make his first appearance of the season against the All Blacks.

Whatever way he goes, Farrell will be hoping to see his team extend their current six-game winning streak.

“You can look at all six and analyse them and say them and none of them were perfect neither,” said Farrell.

“We’ve got to the six Ws through the lessons that we’ve learned and we want to make that seven, but we know that seventh is a tough ask coming into next week.”

Everyone understands that a far more difficult task is ahead, but today was a happy one for Ireland.

“Look, it wasn’t perfect, there was a few discipline issues in the middle of the second half but it’s a pleasing day and even a great day for me and not for Johnny because Man City beat Man United,” said Farrell, who is a big City fan.

“So it’s been a brilliant week up until the final whistle for Johnny.”
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