Andy Farrell: 'The new caps should be proud of how they handled themselves'

Eight players made their debut last night as Ireland romped to a 71-10 win over the USA.

Rob Baloucoune celebrates his debut try.
Rob Baloucoune celebrates his debut try.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

THE SCREECH OF the final whistle brought the show to an end. Yet it still took another 20 minutes for the stage to empty.

First there was the ritual of handshakes between cast members; then a lap of honour, something that would have been inappropriate in any other season but which was fitting for this moment.

It wasn’t that the Irish team felt the need to celebrate a facile win over USA, more that we all wanted to celebrate a bit of normality returning to our lives again. Having fans back in the stadium – having noise back in the stadium – is a big thing in light of everything that has happened over the last 16 months. “The crowd of 6,000 felt like 60,000,” according to James Ryan, the Ireland captain, who rightly pointed out how special a moment this was for the eight debutants to have families and friends present for their first cap.

For Andy Farrell, the Ireland coach, this game also carried significance, not so much in terms of the 71-10 scoreline, although that was impressive, more so because this was further evidence that his succession plan is working. Of the 23 who played last night, 14 have made their debut under his watch.

caolin-blade-and-paul-boyle-celebrate-after-winning-his-their-international-caps-for-ireland New caps: Caolin Blade and Paul Boyle. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Suddenly there isn’t as much panic about Johnny Sexton moving on because Joey Carbery is back fit again; suddenly CJ Stander’s departure is compensated by the fact Gavin Coombes has arrived; Conor Murray is growing old, Craig Casey is growing into the No9 shirt; if Keith Earls slows, Robert Baloucoune has proven to be lightening quick.

“I am delighted for the new caps,” said Farrell afterwards. “To a man they all did extremely well and they should be proud of themselves. It does not matter if the scoreline says 71 points or not. They should be proud of how they handled themselves.

“It was tentative at the start, we were trying to feel our way into the game; a couple of lineouts went astray, a couple of sloppy passes, when you go from one negative to another, it can have a negative effect on the game.

“I was unbelievably pleased with how they gathered themselves, regrouped and got back into the game, how they held it there. They did not become sloppy after that. We saw last week how USA can get back into things and gather themselves. So I am pleased.”

One player who had plenty to be pleased about was Ronan Kelleher. He started this game with a decent reputation; he ended it with his name in the record books alongside Brian Robinson, Keith Wood and Denis Hickie; the only Irish players to have scored four tries in a single international.

ronan-kelleher-scores-a-try Ronan Kelleher crosses for his third try. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Rónan has had one or two starts for us before in big games. He is top notch, he deserves his start, he is growing, his set-piece is getting better; his defence is a lot more aggressive, we know about his attacking display. Him being called into the Lions and training with them for a period was great for him.”

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The next step is to back it up next season against tougher opposition. The US coach, Gary Gold, acknowledged his team played poorly last night, certainly in comparison to how they performed at Twickenham a week earlier. England beat them by 14 points, Ireland by 61. “The bigger comparison is within,” said Gold. “We were just nowhere near as good against Ireland as we were against England.”

This struggle to put back-to-back performances together often happens with Tier 2 teams. It didn’t help that Ireland weren’t in the mood to make life any easier for them.

“I have been delighted, first and foremost by the lads’ attitude, you never would think it has been a marathon of a season,” said Farrell. “I said it to them in the dressing room that you would actually think it was the start of the season, not the end.

“The new caps have wanted that experience; lads are growing into the leadership role. Lads who have never had been in there before have thrived on the experience. When we meet up again, we don’t want to take one step back before we go forward again.

“We have seen the group grow; when we meet back up with the Lions lads, we want the experience to be transferred from this year to the start of next season, the autumn; it is going to be difficult for us next season.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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