Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Dan Sheridan/INPHO Ireland were left dejected last weekend against France.
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Farrell needs Ireland's attack to get firing for 'dangerous' Italy trip
After a blunt performance against France, the Mike Catt-coached Ireland attack needs to improve.

THE LAST TIME Ireland travelled to Rome for a Six Nations game was an unhappy occasion in 2019.

You might remember Johnny Sexton exiting in major frustration, kicking out at a towel after being replaced by Jack Carty, his annoyance in that moment seemingly focused on a dropped ball by Jacob Stockdale from Sexton’s pass moments before.

It wasn’t a perfect day for Conor Murray either, with the scrum-half getting stripped of the ball by opposite number Tito Tebaldi in the lead-up to an Italian try.

Murray did later score a try himself and Ireland ended up winning 26-16 in Rome but it sure wasn’t all plain sailing. It’s not the most comforting memory for the Irish squad as they now prepare for another visit to Stadio Olimpico in the Six Nations on Saturday 27 February.

Andy Farrell was an assistant coach to Joe Schmidt back in 2019 but he’s the boss now and his side urgently need a strong win and a convincing performance to get the show back on the road after two defeats in the opening two rounds of the Six Nations.

The Italians have also lost two from two, albeit in facing the two highest-ranked teams in the competition in France and England and displaying some bright sparks in attack even as they have conceded 91 points.

“It is dangerous,” said Farrell of Ireland’s trip to Rome, for which he is expected to pick a team close to full-strength.  “We’ve been analysing for the last couple of weeks and if you just looked at the scorelines you’d say that everything should be rosy, but we know the facts.

“We’ve watched the Italian side, they’re playing some good rugby as they proved last week at Twickenham. They caused all sorts of trouble.

jonathan-sexton-after-the-game James Crombie / INPHO Ireland had a frustrating day in Rome in 2019. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“If you don’t respect the game in general, you can come unstuck. A couple of times, teams have tried to approach the game a little differently and have really come unstuck against Italy and that’s in the recent past as well.”

That said, Ireland are still 20-point favourites and really should have the ability to put this Italy team away. Another stuttering performance would raise serious concerns about where this Irish side is heading under Farrell, so he needs everything firing for round three.

The Mike Catt-coached attack is of primary concern for Ireland after a poor outing in that department against the French.

On the back of the detail-heavy Schmidt era, Farrell and Catt have been keen for Ireland’s players to have greater autonomy on the pitch but so far, the approach hasn’t yielded consistently positive results. Against France, Ireland missed several opportunities to attack space out wide.

“The biggest thing for me is our game understanding and at the same time understanding where the space is,” said Farrell. “I ain’t trying to make this complicated at all because it isn’t complicated, it’s unbelievably simple.

“The run, kick or pass element as far as our game understanding or decision-making is concerned is whether you can put pace on to the ball.

“Sometimes it is on in front of you, sometimes it is on to the side of you. Sometimes there is no option whatsoever other than to run with brute force and do your best.

“To do all of that, you’ve got to be set and ready to go as a team nice and early in the piece because you don’t get time in international football to do anything different if you’re not set nice and early.

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andy-farrell Dan Sheridan / INPHO Farrell needs a strong performance from his team in Italy. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Therefore, those spaces that you’d normally set up at Pro14 level, etc., tend to be there 30 seconds later and [at Test level] they’re not anymore.

“We are creating opportunities through our game understanding. Are we seeing all of those opportunities that we’re creating or are we executing on those opportunities? No, not at this moment in time. That’s obviously the work-on and where we need to get to.”

While Farrell himself hasn’t used the phrase ‘heads-up rugby’ to define his and Catt’s hopes for Ireland’s attack, several of his Ireland players have.

“Some of the players mentioned that at the start, heads-up rugby,” said Farrell. “What is that? It’s not complicated. If you get a ball that’s on the halfway line and you’ve got 40 metres of space on the right-hand side, are you going to run, pass or kick?

“So, those decisions have always been in the game. If you’re a forward, you’re taking the ball forward and there’s a 10-metre space on either side of you, are you gonna tuck or are you gonna pass the ball? That is decision making.

“If there’s no decision to be made, are you, as a support player, going to run a tight line for an offload or you going to run a latch and clean the ruck out? These are all decision-making processes.

“Making good decisions at the breakdown – are we sending too many players into the breakdown? It’s all part of the decision-making process.

“We talked about it a bit at the start and I think it’s got lost in translation really that we’re trying to complicate things. We’re not at all. The game is still as simple as it always has been. You’ve got to play into space, whether it’s front of you or to the side of you.”

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