Andy Farrell had an interesting take on Irish provinces being outmuscled in big games
Heading into a five-game tour to New Zealand, a side with revenge on their mind, Andy Farrell must jolt his players back to the positive mind-set in which they finished the Six Nations.
The past three weeks have been liberally sprinkled with chastening experiences for supporters of the Irish provinces. Connacht were well short of the United Rugby Championship knock-out stages, Munster ended up losing badly to Ulster, who were then pipped to a final spot at the death by the Stormers.
Leinster, for so many years the guiding light, looked on course for at least one trophy until they ran smack bang into La Rochelle, in the Champions Cup final, and Bulls in the URC semis. In both games, Leinster suffered at the [enormous] hands of giant packs, and hefty impact subs.
Will Skelton, with his two-metre frame and his size 19 boots, did a lot of damage in the European end-game, while the likes of Walt Steenkamp and Arno Botha were brawn and bulk defined as Leinster were hounded by the Bulls. Post-match, Bulls boss Jake White declared:
"The La Rochelle pack is probably 1,000 kilograms so there are a lot of things I learned there [about facing Leinster] as well, in terms of having a massive pack of forwards."
Asked if there are well-founded fears, held by Irish fans, pundits and reporters, that this nation's best may suffer against bigger packs, Andy Farrell was bullish on what his side is capable of.
Andy Farrell on Irish players fronting up in a green jersey
Speaking with the media, over Zoom, on the day he announced his 40-man squad to tour New Zealand, we asked Andy Farrell if concerns on Irish players getting outmuscled were valid.
"A lot gets said about Ireland, and are they playing like Munster, are they playing like Leinster, are they playing like Ulster, etcetera," Farrell said. "We're Ireland. We're our own team, you know?
"We play our own way and we've come up against big teams before and been unbelievably physical.
"Physicality is not just about fronting up, it's how you play the game and how you get opportunities to create space to be able to get over the gain-line and be able to be aggressive in the right parts of the game. I think we've done pretty well of late in that type of scenario, so, no, it doesn't affect us at all."
It is true that Ireland have more than held their own in their last two games against England, and in their November wins over Argentina and New Zealand. Under Farrell, Ireland look to play hard and fast against the sides with heftier packs, and try move the opposition's big units around.
The France game, in Paris, was a recent exception, though. A sizeable and ferocious French pack wreaked first half havoc, in that game, and although Ireland rallied after the break, it was that opening 40 minute barrage that ultimately cost them the championship, and Grand Slam.
"No, not really," Farrell added, when he was later asked if he was worried about the end-of-season form of the Irish provinces.
"I mean, there are all sorts of things to take into account. We’ve got guys that are in great form, we’ve got guys that haven’t played for a long time.
"But at the end of the day, when we met up on Monday for the first time [it was], 'Where can we take this? Where can we take our performance?' We know that it needs to be better than it has ever been, so it’s how cohesive can we be as a group to go and tackle this."
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