'I’ve never doubted any coach more than Andy Farrell, but he’s been right so many times'
Brought to you by Heineken
"That's typical of Andy Farrell, because it's not about him."
Andy Farrell won his first bit of proper silverware with Ireland in March 2022 when Ireland finished second in the Six Nations but claimed the Triple Crown. Farrell and his side have kicked on massively from that.
Since that Crown-clinching win over Scotland, Ireland have won 14 out of 15 Tests, claimed a Grand Slam, topped the world rankings for a sustained stretch and beat just about every side that has a serious World Cup chance.
Still, Farrell is well aware of this tournament and the hoodoo it has over Ireland. Not only have we not once reached the last four, the only time we even looked like doing it was back in 1991 when Gordon Hamilton scored a cracker against the Aussies at Lansdowne Road. Those celebrations were quickly muted when Wallabies legend Michael Lynagh answered back with a try of his own.
Darren Cave on impressive Andy Farrell
Ahead of the Springboks match, former Munster and Ireland back-row, CJ Stander insisted his South African upbringing would not influence who he would be cheering for, this weekend:
"My personal view, and I've said this before, is that I was born in South Africa and I can't change that I am South African.
"But I played 50 Tests for Ireland and to turn over now and support the Springboks would be, for me, I don't know. I'm an Irishman and that's who I'm going to back on the weekend. Even if they don't play well, that's my team."
The World Cup pool stages draw was made three years ago and now sees three of the top-five ranked sides [Ireland, South Africa are 1 and 2, Scotland are 5] in Pool B. If that was not tough enough, the winner and runner-up in the pool will almost certainly be paired off against New Zealand in the last eight.
It is a brutal hand to be dealt and Farrell seems determined to take the fight to South Africa by battle testing his main men, ahead of Saturday's game, rather than easing any player back.
On the latest House of Rugby, former Ulster and Ireland centre Darren Cave confessed he has often doubted some of the big Andy Farrell selection calls, over the past few years, only - and happily - to be proved wrong. He said:
"When the Tonga selection was done, I could understand why he went with that strength against them, but it did make me question the Romania selection. But the thing that underpinned it was, I have doubted what Andy Farrell has done so many... there is probably no coach that I've ever thought more, 'That's strange that he's done that'. And he has been right, so many times.
"Even looking back, the one that stands out for me was that he picked Mack Hansen ahead of Rob Baloucoune, two years ago [for the 2022 Six Nations]. I was like, 'Where has he got this from?' Then you look at that now. He was right, yet again!"
Such is the nature of Irish rugby, and the wave it has been riding for the past decade, that there will invariably be two or three decent options for each position.
Farrell definitely has his frontliners - Hansen, James Lowe, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter, Johnny Sexton, Peter O'Mahony, and a few others - but he insists many in his squad are capable of plugging in and out when called up. He scoffed at a reporter, on Saturday, when asked if his team selection for the win over Tonga had been vindicated.
"That's typical of Farrell," Cave added, "because it's not about him.
"People do ask, what's different about him. I wouldn't really know as I've only met him once or twice, but it's one thing that does come across - it's genuinely not about him. It's not about him being vindicated or not. It's about Ireland winning games and him putting them in the best position possible to keep winning games.
"So, yet again, he's right and fair play to him."
HOUSE OF RUGBY WITH DARREN CAVE & CJ STANDER
- Two big calls in the Ireland team that should start against South Africa
- Robbie Henshaw puts personal ambitions to one side with selfless post-match comments
- Bundee Aki shows another side of himself before reminding us all of his best qualities
- Roy Keane cracks jokes with Johnny Sexton and Andy Farrell at Ireland training camp
- Paul O'Connell on his most treasured jersey swap and toughest opponent
- Tommy Bowe backs Jack Crowley as World Cup 'deputy' to Johnny Sexton