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14th Feb 2023

“I know the question has to be asked” – Andy Farrell expertly answers query on Ireland ‘perception’

Patrick McCarry

Andy Farrell

“10 points after two rounds is a great place to be but… we have to move on to the next one.”

No sooner had the Netflix camera crew packed up and French rugby reporters pegged it out to the mixed zone to interview several of the visiting, beaten team, Andy Farrell was surrounded by 15 or 16 familiar faces.

Most of the rugby writers you’ll read, see or hear were in a semi-circle around the Ireland head coach, with a couple of well-known Welsh and English scribes in there too. The presence of so many French and British heavyweights, aside from the Irish media crew, drove home how this really was a No.1 vs. No.2 contest at the Aviva Stadium.

Farrell is as keen to spread the praise around his playing squad as Joe Schmidt, his predecessor, and he seemed genuinely delighted to James Ryan, Andrew Porter and Dave Kilcoyne that their 50th cap experiences could be so rousing and enjoyable. “More than anything,” he confessed, though, “it’s about the ‘W’, isn’t it?”

“We’ve a couple of days off now, and a well-earned couple of days off, because the body of work that we’ve put in has been fantastic in such a short space of time,” said Farrell.

“So, a well-earned rest, bounce into work Thursday and Friday, and then a weekend off, and then into a proper Test match week. I mean, when you get a chance you’ve got to be ready, and I think that’s evident in the showings that we’ve had over the last couple of weeks.”

On House of Rugby [LISTEN from 2:10 below], Greg O’Shea, Lindsay Peat and Jason Hennessy looked back on the thrilling win over France and ahead to the Italy game. Andy Farrell, meanwhile, saw one post-match question coming a mile off.

Andy FarrellIreland head coach Andy Farrell. (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile)

Andy Farrell trying to break Ireland free of past hang-ups

After sharing some pleasantries with the written media, and saying how he was planning to enjoy his own couple of days off (or less ‘ON’ that usual), Andy Farrell was asked an interesting question.

The Ireland head coach was asked about ‘the perception’ that Ireland do not start World Cup years well. There is a definite kernel of truth here – in 2011, they needed a Ronan O’Gara drop goal to beat Italy 13-11 in their Six Nations opener, then lost to France, and they lost their 2019 championship opener to England. Go back to 2007 and they won their opener but faltered against France in the first ever Test match held at Croke Park. The counter would be winning their first three games of the 2015 Six Nations.

After wins over Wales and France, Farrell was asked if ‘that was a monkey off your back’ or whether too much could be read into the slow start perception.

“I don’t buy into it at all,” he replied. “I know the question has to be asked, as history tells you that’s what has happened in the past. It’s all irrelevant to us. The only thing that matters to us is where we’re at and where we’re going.”

Farrell says preparation for this year’s Six Nations has been the best since he took over, after the 2019 World Cup, but that can be explained by he and his team knowing how to get the best out of the squad. “I feel like the team is hungry, to want to start well.”

Going back to moments in the victory against Les Bleus, Farrell highlighted Bundee Aki chasing back to mop up a grubber kick and James Ryan showing for carry after carry, and carry again. He also highlighted a Garry Ringrose effort, just after he score the bonus-point try.

“Garry was out on his feet, at one stage, late on, then he found a way to score the try. He came back and took the [French] restart on a single left [from Josh van der Flier].”

Next job, next focus. That is what Farrell and his coaching staff have driven home with these players, and the results are clear.

There’s plenty more,” Farrell enthused. “I couldn’t put a percentage on that. Being clinical is something that we’ve done in patches. Being consistent with that is a work-on, obviously.”

WATCH HOUSE OF RUGBY:

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