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Introducing Ireland: The Farrell revolution continues

Introducing Ireland: The Farrell revolution continues

Introducing Ireland: The Farrell revolution continues

Nearly two years into the Andy Farrell era, there is a sense that Ireland are starting to build into the side their head coach imagined.

It was always going to be difficult for Farrell to completely overhaul the team, not least because he was stepping up from being Joe Schmidt’s assistant.

As a result, the transition has been gradual but heading into the Autumn Nations Series, Farrell has so many options at his disposal that we could see a drastically different team to the one that began his reign in February 2020.

Analysis

Ireland started the year slowly with defeat in Wales, following Peter O’Mahony’s early red card, and at home to France.

Thereafter, however, the performances and results picked up, with wins in Italy and Scotland before the pick of the displays to put England to the sword in Dublin.

This summer, minus seven British & Irish Lions, as well as skipper Johnny Sexton, Ireland beat Japan in an entertaining fixture and then put on a show against the USA.

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The question for Farrell now, is how many of those players have done enough to force their way into the first-team reckoning. And which young guns have earned an opportunity.

The back row is perhaps the biggest question mark. Leinster alone have seven international back-rowers, and Scott Penny could make that eight this November. With Gavin Coombes’ emergence at Munster and the likes of Connacht’s Paul Boyle and Ulster’s Nick Timoney, Farrell could really go in any direction.

Likewise at scrum-half, Conor Murray showed against England that he is still a top-class performer, but as well as Jamison Gibson-Park, young guns Craig Casey and Nathan Doak are coming for the No.9 jersey.

Key Players 

Tadhg Beirne 

At the start of 2021, there were questions over whether Tadhg Beirne could sneak into the Ireland matchday 23, but by the end of the Guinness Six Nations, he was their best player.

An absolute menace at the breakdown and a go-to man in the lineout, Beirne also offers the ability to play in the second row or back row to international standard.

Following the Lions tour, he made his first appearance of the season at the weekend but he should still walk straight into the Ireland squad for November.

 

And however, Farrell decides to go, there will surely be a spot for Beirne somewhere in the starting XV.

Caelan Doris 

Perhaps the biggest change to have taken place in the Farrell era happened this summer when CJ Stander caught a few people by surprise in announcing his retirement from rugby.

The experienced No.8 has been the most consistent carrier for Ireland for the best part of half a decade and his boots will take some filling.

But Caelan Doris had already begun to establish himself in the Ireland back row before injury cut short his Championship in the spring.

He is not short of competition at No.8, with the aforementioned Coombes and Lions starter Jack Conan. But after a knock that side-lined him for some of the early United Rugby Championship, Doris will be keen to make up for lost time and nail down that starting jersey.

Ronan Kelleher 

What a summer it was for Ronan Kelleher, scoring four tries in a match against the USA before being called up as injury cover for the Lions.

While he did not feature for the Lions, there is a sense that Kelleher has taken another step in his development and could be the long-term answer at hooker.

At just 23, there is no question over his potential, but it will come down to the set-piece and ensuring that Ireland’s lineout is flawless this November, with Rob Herring still pushing for that starting spot.

Get that right, and the jersey might be his for the foreseeable future.

Schedule

It will be a sense of déjà-vu for Ireland first up as they welcome Japan to Dublin after the two teams played out a thrilling encounter this summer.

Ireland eventually came away with a 39-31 win, but were pushed all the way by their visitors and will expect another tough test against the free-scoring Brave Blossoms.

Next up are the All Blacks, beaten on their last trip to Dublin back in 2018 but fresh from their Rugby Championship success and looking to regain the number one spot in the world.

The last time the teams met was at the 2019 World Cup when New Zealand emerged as comfortable victors in Joe Schmidt’s last game in charge so an improvement on that performance will be expected.

And then lastly come Argentina, brilliant at times in 2020 but struggling to date in 2021, especially in the Rugby Championship.

They were victorious over Wales in the summer though, and Ireland know only too well not to underestimate Los Pumas.

FIXTURES

6 November – Ireland v Japan, Aviva Stadium – KO: 1pm

13 November – Ireland v New Zealand, Aviva Stadium – KO: 3.15pm

21 November – Ireland v Argentina, Aviva Stadium – KO: 2.15pm

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