Ryan Byrne/INPHO Farrell before Saturday's game.
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'His time has come' - Lancaster says Farrell's head coaching credentials were 'never in doubt'
Andy Farrell’s former coaching companion Stuart Lancaster assesses his opening two games in charge of Ireland.

FOLLOWING A lukewarm reaction to Ireland’s opening round tussle with Scotland, the Andy Farrell era gathered pace with an impressive bonus point triumph against Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

Yet while this represented a major step-up in performance levels for most, Farrell’s former coaching companion Stuart Lancaster looks at it from a different perspective.

“I think that was never in doubt [Farrell’s head coach credentials]. From my point of view, I think his time has come. In the first game, while people might have said Ireland didn’t play too well, I think they underestimated how well Scotland played,” Lancaster said.

“They bounced back from the World Cup. I think Scotland defend better under Steve Tandy. I’m delighted for Andy and the coaching team. The first two games, to be at home, is a real advantage. The real test is to come now, away from home.”

Home advantage has certainly been a big factor over the course of the opening two weekends of this year’s Six Nations. Five of the six games thus far have gone the way of the hosts – England’s hard-fought 13-6 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield Stadium being the one exception.

On Ireland’s last visit to Twickenham in August – for a World Cup warm-up clash – they suffered a resounding 57-15 defeat to Eddie Jones’ men. Although England encountered their own version of the away day blues at the hands of France last Sunday week, Lancaster believes they are close to rediscovering their 2019 form.

“The bookies have England with a seven-point advantage. Playing at home at Twickenham is a big factor. The previous game at Twickenham, Ireland have a lot of work to do to improve on that performance. I think Ireland can win. I do think that because of the quality of players they’ve got, but I think England improved. They didn’t play great against France, but obviously got a good win in very poor conditions [in Scotland].

“They have powerful players, they’ve a good level of cohesion and organisation. For them, first game at Twickenham, it could set them up as well. I’m not going to put my money on any team at the moment. I think it’ll be a great game.”

stuart-lancaster Tom O'Hanlon / INPHO Stuart Lancaster at Leinster's media briefing. Tom O'Hanlon / INPHO / INPHO

Leinster senior coach Lancaster was speaking from the province’s UCD base ahead of their return to Guinness PRO14 action against Toyota Cheetahs on Saturday (kick-off 2.30pm). With a feel-good factor revolving around the Irish team in the wake of their impressive win over the Six Nations holders, Lancaster acknowledged it is the perfect time for a resumption of competitive club fare.

“With no international rugby this weekend, it is an opportunity for people to come down and watch Leinster play. A lot of young lads making their mark as international players could be playing.

“We’ve got some experienced players who missed out – Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden – who want to prove a point as well. It is a big game for us and we’re hoping for a lot of support.”

Indeed, the blues received a boost on Monday with the news that five of their players will be released from the Ireland squad for this weekend’s game. Despite making appearances off the bench against Wales, Max Deegan (a debutant on Saturday) and Ronan Kelleher are recalled along with Dave Kearney, Luke McGrath and Will Connors.

However, Caelan Doris will remain within the Irish camp – a clear indication that the Mayo man is in the mix for the forthcoming trip to England.

While Jack Conan and Dan Leavy remain sidelined with long-term injuries, Lancaster revealed that both players are progressing well behind the scenes.

“Jack is getting closer and closer to returning. Him and Dan Leavy would be huge players. Jack is closer than Dan. We’ve got a block of three games now. Then we’ve got a break and then we have two games before Saracens – the Kings and Cheetahs away. We’re hoping Jack will be in or around that sort of time.

“Dan will probably be a little bit later. Not far off as well, which is such an amazing turnaround for Dan in particular. My chair looks over into the gym. For, I reckon, nine or ten months now, I’ve watched him day-in, day-out go from tiny, tiny steps in a brace to beginning to walk and move. Getting his strength up.

“It’s phenomenal really to see him getting back to the place he is now. I think he did his first run the other day,” Lancaster added.

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