The roof will be closed in Cardiff on Saturday. Billy Stickland/INPHO

'We wanted the roof closed' - Farrell urges Ireland to embrace Cardiff atmosphere

The Ireland head coach says Finlay Bealham deserves his starting chance against Wales.

IRELAND HEAD COACH Andy Farrell has confirmed that his side wanted the roof at the Principality Stadium to be closed for this Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Wales.

Despite the forecast suggesting there won’t be any rain in Cardiff on Saturday, the roof will indeed be shut at the Principality, with Ireland welcoming the chance to play in a raucous, hostile atmosphere.

In the 2019 Six Nations, Ireland requested the roof to be kept open and suffered a 22-17 defeat in the pouring rain as Wales claimed a Grand Slam.

However, Farrell says he wanted his team to experience the loudest atmosphere possible away from home this weekend.

“It’s great,” said Farrell. “It’s a fantastic stadium. We’ve been there before when it’s closed and there’s no atmosphere like it. It’s fantastic. It can only be good for us.

“We have to agree with the roof being closed. We wanted it closed as well to sample the atmosphere and keep progressing on our journey.”

Ireland have lost their last four Six Nations visits to Cardiff and Farrell was keen to stress how demanding a challenge it will be against Warren Gatland’s side this weekend.

Farrell even cited how his own record as a player involved some tough experiences in Cardiff, including a Challenge Cup final defeat with rugby league side Wigan.

Gatland has claimed this game is a ‘free hit’ for Wales against strong favourites Ireland but Farrell isn’t buying it.

andy-farrell Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“A free shot in Test match rugby? Where do you get them from? We’d love to be able to buy one of those. Maybe I’ll buy him a free shot after the game,” said Farrell with a smile.

“But there’s absolutely no doubt that Warren will expect his side to win… and so do I.

“I expect our side to win. His past record shows what he’s about in this competition. Finding a way to win has always been key to those teams, and we’re very aware of that.”

Ireland will have to win without key man Tadhg Furlong, whose recovery from a calf injury continues. With the Leinster man missing out, Connacht’s Finlay Bealham will make his first Six Nations start at the age of 31.

Farrell does hope to have Furlong available for the second-round clash with France in Dublin on 11 February, but he stressed that Bealham has earned his chance.

“He’s not quite ready,” said Farrell of Furlong. “In fact, he’s progressing pretty well but he’s not quite there yet. He could possibly be there in the next few days or week or whatever, but we just think that Finlay deserves it as well.

“He’s playing some outstanding rugby at this moment in time. The last game he played, he scored a hat-trick, he’s scrummaging very well, so he deserves a start. Tadhg will keep working away to hopefully be fit for the French game.

“Coming back from the autumn, or any camp he’s been in with us, he [Bealham] has had that trust. He’s a massive personality within our squad, he’s very popular, but coming out of the autumn and how that translates, going back to Connacht and his performances since then has been top-drawer.”

Elsewhere, Stuart McCloskey has retained Ireland’s number 12 shirt, beating off competition from Bundee Aki to hold onto his starting spot.

stuart-mccloskey Stuart McCloskey starts at 12. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I thought he handled himself pretty well,” said Farrell of McCloskey’s three starts last November.

“He has been desperate enough to get the opportunities and do well. I think the good thing for us is that there’s more in him at this level. We’re excited to see that.

“Bundee will make the dressing room feel right, 100%. Him being there on the bench, and he did that in the autumn, came off the bench [against Australia] and brought a great deal of power and experience onto the field. We’re expecting more of the same.”

Farrell had some interesting calls to make on the bench, which has a very experienced edge.

Leinster’s in-form Ross Byrne got the nod ahead of Jack Crowley as back-up to captain Johnny Sexton at out-half.

“It was just training really, how he [Byrne] has gone about his business, and he has continued like we knew he would do, regarding how he’s played for Leinster,” said Farrell.

“The ownership, the authority that he’s got within his game, and the ownership of the plan going forward. When you have authority like that, there tends to be a lot of trust around you. He’s had a good 12 days with us.”

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