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Dan Sheridan/INPHO Johnny Sexton at Ireland training yesterday.
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Sexton still the man as Farrell's Ireland look towards clash with thrilling Japan
The 2023 World Cup is looming into view as Ireland get set for an intriguing autumn series.

THE LAST IMPRESSION we have of an Andy Farrell Ireland team playing with a full hand is one that’s difficult to forget.

On the final day of the 2021 Six Nations, Farrell’s side delivered a complete performance to beat Eddie Jones’ England 32-18, Keith Earls and Jack Conan scoring the tries on what was a good day for the Irish attack.

Before that, Ireland had been down-and-up in the Six Nations: an opening defeat to Wales after Peter O’Mahony’s red card, a home loss to France following several big injury blows, a six-try win against a poor Italy side, a last-gasp victory away to Scotland.

The championship ended on the most convincing note for Ireland, who were then missing many key men for the summer Tests against Japan and the US. Eight Irishmen were selected in the Lions squad, with three more – captain Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy, and Earls – rested for the pair of home wins.

Gavin Coombes, Robert Baloucoune, Harry Byrne, James Hume, Tom O’Toole, and Nick Timoney were among those to win their first Ireland caps in July, with the six of them returning for the upcoming November Tests against Japan, the All Blacks, and Argentina.

Already there has been talk of Ireland ‘daring to dream’ about the 2023 World Cup, an obvious contrast to the previous regime, and there is excitement about the season ahead – which also includes the Six Nations and a three-Test tour of New Zealand.

But it all resumes with these autumn fixtures and Ireland will need to get up to speed quickly for the return of this thrilling Japan team on 6 November. The Brave Blossoms warmed up with a defeat to Australia last weekend, which was many of their players’ first game since back in July.

Ireland, meanwhile, have their own concerns about some players being undercooked having had injuries or delayed returns after the Lions tour.

“That’s the world we live in and there are no excuses from our side, no whinging from our side,” said Farrell yesterday.

andy-farrell Dan Sheridan / INPHO Farrell wants Ireland to embrace the build-up to 2023. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Our Lions players, did they come back later than others? Maybe by a week or so but what we can do is fast forward to the end of the season and think, ‘We definitely should have looked after those boys way back then and now we’re paying for it.’

“It’s our duty to look after our players and do the right thing by them and, at the same time, we met in September [for a one-day training camp], so they knew the lie of the land.

“They’re going to have two more weeks of intense training here and they’ll be ready to go.”

Farrell enthused about the quality Japan will bring to Dublin, praising their coaches Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown. Ireland squeezed past them on a 39-31 scoreline in July but memories of the shock 2019 World Cup defeat to Joseph’s team haven’t faded.

“Their attacking game is there for everyone to see, they work extremely hard, everyone to be on their feet, everyone to be an option and therefore they’re able to play with good width,” said Farrell.

“They’re able to play a dynamic game that plays through you, and an offloading game. Speed of ball is going to be a problem for us that we’re going to have to solve. Jamie, I know he drives the physicality of the game and I know that’s improved massively as well.

“Set piece-wise, we see it as being a huge challenge, but that’s the reason that we love playing against Japan – because it’s the type of test that we want.”

Thereafter, Ireland welcome the All Blacks – who Farrell stresses are the best team in the world currently – and Argentina to town.

Ireland fans will be fascinated by Farrell’s team selection for these autumn games, with uncapped players Dan Sheehan and Ciarán Frawley hoping for debuts, while those who got a taste of Test rugby in July will be desperate for more.

joey-carbery Dan Sheridan / INPHO Joey Carbery will be hoping for a start this autumn. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

There has been much discussion of the succession planning behind first-choice out-half and captain Johnny Sexton, with Farrell hoping 25-year-old Munster man Joey Carbery can build back towards his best.

“The kid’s been out for an awful long time and he’s worked extremely hard to get to this stage,” said Farrell of Carbery overcoming his long-term injury problems.

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“He had a handful of games towards the end of the year [last season] and we brought him back into the international scene to see where he’s at. Then it breaks up and he’s waiting to get going again. It’s a tough old cycle for him, isn’t it?

“Him being back in the squad, around the quality of player that we have in this squad is going to help Joey come a long way. He’ll pick things up off the likes of Johnny and use that to his advantage.”

Sexton remains the main man, though. His IRFU deal is set to expire at the end of the current season but it’s clear the 36-year-old is aiming to be part of the 2023 World Cup campaign.

Farrell said he will keep discussions with Sexton – who is set to win his 100th Ireland cap against Japan – open as he plans for that big tournament.

“It’s pretty straightforward. Is Johnny playing well? Is Johnny hungry to keep being motivated to put the boots on every single day and keep wanting to get better? Is Johnny fit and healthy over the next couple of years?

“We’ll see how things unfold, we’ve got a great relationship and we’ll keep talking on that front. Things will be as simple as that.”

- Originally published at 07.00

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella, and Gavan Casey assess the provinces’ first URC blocks and look ahead to November for the Ireland men’s and women’s teams on The42 Rugby Weekly:

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