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'These are guys we've all earmarked but we've got to make sure they're ready'

Ireland boss Andy Farrell said he can’t rush promising young players into Test rugby.

Harry Byrne, Craig Casey, and Ryan Baird.
Harry Byrne, Craig Casey, and Ryan Baird.

IRELAND HEAD COACH Andy Farrell has stressed that he and his coaching staff need to be certain young players “are ready” for the step-up in standard before pitching them into Test rugby.

Many Ireland fans are hopeful of seeing fresh faces involved for the Six Nations clash with Italy in two weekends’ time.

21-year-old Munster scrum-half Craig Casey was on the Ireland bench last weekend against France but wasn’t called on for his debut, while 21-year-old Leinster lock Ryan Baird, 23-year-old Munster back row Gavin Coombes, and 22-year-old Ulster tighthead prop Tom O’Toole have been involved in wider Ireland squads under Farrell without playing yet.

Meanwhile, 21-year-old Leinster out-half Harry Byrne has trained with Farrell’s group several times and is seen as a long-term successor to current captain Johnny Sexton.

There have been calls for Farrell to give Byrne a taste of Test rugby against the Italians, but the head coach underlined that Ireland need to be certain that players like Byrne – who has yet to start a Champions Cup game – are ready.

“Those decisions are normally quite a bit easier than they are at this moment in time because… look at Harry for example – Harry has played about 95 minutes or 98 minutes in 10 weeks,” said Farrell. “80 of those were a couple of weeks ago against the Scarlets.

“He is a guy that has been on the radar for some time for us, but it has been unbelievably stop-start and he has had a bad back, etc. [meaning he had to withdraw from starting a Champions Cup game against Northampton in December].”

“We brought him in last week [before the France game as injury cover], we tried to give him a little bit of experience.

“But we can’t throw any kid – not just Harry – you can’t throw any kid in by just guessing. You’ve got to have them in the environment or they’ve got to earn the right to get into this environment.

tadhg-beirne-craig-casey-and-tadhg-furlong-stand-for-a-moments-silence-in-aid-of-rugbyagainstracism Craig Casey didn't get off the bench last weekend. Source: Jmaes Crombie/INPHO

“Why? Because the guys that are in the environment have worked bloody hard to get here as well. So, it’s the balance and the reason I say it’s difficult at this stage is just because of the situation with Covid.

“It has been stop-start and it’s hard for a kid to get continuity and keep getting selected. There’s a bit of bad luck that goes that way so all of those things have to come into play and then regarding selection in this squad, you look at somebody like Tom O’Toole.

“He has come in, there’s three tightheads that have been picked. We bring him in so he’s learning on the job with the guys that have been at the top of the game for a lot longer than he has. The experience of being in the camp has been absolutely priceless for him.

“Whether he gets to play or not is a different story because he has to be ready and we’ve got to understand that they have to be ready because we’ve got to be fair to the team and to the player himself.

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“The same goes for Craig as well, along with Ryan Baird, Harry, etc.

These are guys we have all earmarked but we’ve got to make sure that they’re ready. We have got to make sure that they’re ready.”

If Casey is not viewed as ready by the Ireland coaches, it begs the question of why he was picked on bench for the France game. 

With Farrell expected to select a strong starting team for the Italy clash given how much pressure Ireland are under after losing their first two Six Nations games, it remains to be seen if any youngsters are included for debuts off the bench.

ryan-baird Ryan Baird is an exciting prospect up front. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Farrell underlined the need for young players to prove themselves with their provinces by getting picked for the biggest games.

“Guys who are earning their stripes, who are training and playing well week in, week out, they’ve earned the right to get picked, you know?” said Farrell.

“You don’t just throw a kid in there just for the sake of bringing another kid through. The kid has got to prove his worth on a daily basis in training and show his worth when it matters.

“Hopefully, that all accumulates into a process where they get to play in some big games under pressure and it’s not a game they’re going to win, where there’s nothing on, where you play 25-odd phases and you break them down because you’ve got better players than them or the team is better coached.

“That’s not the way it’s coached or played at international level. Exposure to big games is crucial for international players.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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