Andy Farrell still has work to do
After a week of replays in which Dan Parks nailed converting the sidelines into a crowded Hill 16 in 2010 and how that shot instantly drained the energy of most of the 82,000 crowd at Croke Park, he fears he was hit by a similar performance from the two yesterday Blair Kinghorn or Finn Russell have fizzled out.
he theme tune from the Irish camp all week revolved around rewarding fans with a post-game parade, with the Triple Crown being passed around by men in green. Fair enough, job done if a little tatty. So pause for a photo. Get a few kids involved. Conclude with something tangible from a season that promised more, but not the kind of promise you make when you know you’re in control of all the moving parts and can definitely deliver.
Four out of five for Ireland in the Championship adorned with a Triple Crown is always a good return unless the only fence was because the jockey texted on approach. Paris wasn’t like that. France was and is way ahead and should have won by a bigger margin. They withstood the pressure again last night and really earned their Grand Slam.
If they had blown it against Ireland in February, the stewards would have been entitled to conduct the inquiry with whips in hand.
The result streak that gives Andy Farrell 12 wins from his last 13 games deserves something to put in the trophy cabinet. Faced with the toughest schedule in Irish rugby history, New Zealand expects this summer – three Tests and two unofficial – the stats to lose some of their luster before the bank holidays hit at the end of July.
Farrell will learn more from these five games than from this Six Nations campaign. There are no gimmes in New Zealand like there was against Italy. No practical days at home like they had against Wales to open the campaign and Scotland to end it. If the wheels on 18./19. Landing at Dublin Airport in July, the manager will feel more comfortable using the words world and cup in his sentences.
This chat is unlikely to represent depth at Prop Forward. If the loss of Rónan Kelleher with three games to go in this Six Nations tournament was troubling, it rose a few notches when he was joined by Andrew Porter a game later. Both have been central to the Irish pack’s turbocharged improvement compared to 13 months ago when Porter was tighthead, Rob Herring Nutte and Cian Healy was the beginning loosehead. The replacement of CJ Stander in eighth by Jack Conan, alongside Caelan Doris in sixth, and the impressive run of form produced by Josh van der Flier has changed.
Subtract a few of those front rowers, however, and you get a different picture. If this image was seen on a television screen last weekend, it was covered in snow, a blizzard that plagued referee Mathieu Raynal as much as anyone else. Camp Ireland were happy to privately point out that World Rugby chief referee Joel Jutge confirmed this in his assessment. Not knowing what he said about Camp England, even though it’s hardly gospel quality.
While it would have been a smoother ride at Twickenham, Farrell knows the pool of likely boys at the prop isn’t signposted as the deep end. That will not change until the World Cup. So it has clear implications for the goal of finishing in the last four. Yesterday’s tight performance did nothing to boost loosehead’s confidence.
Elsewhere, the coach has some pockets full of talent, others with room to spare. The back row and back three, where Hugo Keenan must be an inspiration to those high-profile footballers who don’t leave school decorated with medals, is a land of wealth. For this campaign, Farrell shared love with Andrew Conway, Mack Hansen and James Lowe.
Picking Hansen ahead of Robert Baloucoune against Italy was an interesting decision. The Ulster wing says he doesn’t always train with Ireland like he’s on the same page as everyone else. Maybe yes, but he managed to get a few more tries a few nights after that Italy game for Ulster against Cardiff. He has the difference that can worry big teams, as does team-mate Jacob Stockdale, who has returned from injury.
If prop and back three are polar opposites of comfort for the coach, then leadership fits somewhere in the middle. Johnny Sexton’s long-distance journey is always tense, simply because if it ends in a hurry, you won’t have time to invest in Joey Carbery, Harry Byrne, or Jack Carty. It was hard to understand why Sexton, who had a tough ride on the physical stakes yesterday, was kept on the field for so long.
Of greater importance is Sexton’s vice-captain James Ryan. Perhaps Farrell was trying to lighten the load on Ryan to present a positive front when, after the game at Twickenham, he said the second row was celebrating the win with his teammates and going through the protocols for a return to the game.
The last thing that should have fallen out of his mouth was a traffic report on his way back to play for a man who has to park far from a rugby field. How long remains to be seen, but Farrell’s words eased an injury that’s a sad and recurring trait in James Ryan’s case.
Even with the micro-monitoring that we now have at the test level, it’s possible to bypass concussions that appear unmissable on playback.
Thomas Francis’ example of Wales versus England is a classic. But when you have a player with Ryan’s history, assuming he would be in for the next game went well beyond tone deafness.
You would hope that the second row could take full advantage of the celebrations of this happy ending for Ireland. It wasn’t the championship they wanted, but they had something to show for their efforts. Now pause to see what happens next.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/six-nations/andy-farrell-still-has-plenty-to-work-on-41466678.html Andy Farrell still has work to do