Andy Farrell confident he has the experience to handle Ireland coaching job

By Ed Elliot, PA
·4-min read

Andy Farrell insists he has sufficient experience to handle the stresses of managing Ireland and will take strength from setbacks endured in 2020.

Farrell is bidding to conclude an erratic first 12 months in the job in positive fashion with victory over Scotland in Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup third-place play-off.

A pair of Twickenham defeats to England, combined with a loss to France in Paris, led Irish rugby bosses to rate the head coach’s performance since succeeding Joe Schmidt as an “average return”.

Farrell has won the other five of his eight fixtures to date, although his team have not always been convincing, including in last weekend’s 23-10 success against Georgia.

The Englishman, who has already used more than 40 players during an experimental period severely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, anticipated a bumpy ride in the role and is confident he can cope with the pressures.

“It’s been a strange old year for everyone. A little bit stop-start,” said Farrell, who began his reign with a 19-12 win over the Scots in February.

“I 100 per cent know there are going to be massive ups and downs and there’s never a smooth road.

“But the learnings that you take along the way, that’s going to make you stronger in the long run and that’s what I will take from it.

“I am big enough and ugly enough to have been around professional sport most of my life.

“This is another big game, I am aware of that, but the stress levels are OK.”

Farrell has named arguably his strongest starting XV for the weekend visit of Gregor Townsend’s men as he seeks to build momentum ahead of the 2021 Six Nations, which begin in February.

Captain Johnny Sexton and centres Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki return to bolster the backs, while Cian Healy, Caelan Doris and Peter O’Mahony are restored to an experienced forward pack.

Despite attracting criticism during the early stages of his tenure, Farrell is content with the progress being made.

  • Ireland 19-12 Scotland (Six Nations)

  • Ireland 24-14 Wales (Six Nations)

  • England 24-12 Ireland (Six Nations)

  • Ireland 50-17 Italy (Six Nations)

  • France 35-27 Ireland (Six Nations)

  • Ireland 32-9 Wales (Autumn Nations Cup)

  • England 18-7 Ireland (Autumn Nations Cup)

  • Ireland 23-10 Georgia (Autumn Nations Cup)

“You guys (the media) will obviously judge the performance at the weekend (against Georgia) and you won’t necessarily see the steps we’re taking on a daily basis behind the scenes,” he said.

“But we feel that we are working towards improving all aspects of our game.

“The fundamentals of the game always have to be strong. Finding the balance of how you improve the rest of the game, that’s the tricky piece but it’s one we’ve started and one we feel, behind the scenes, is going in the right direction.”

Veteran fly-half Sexton, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, said earlier this week that he has not given up hope of featuring at the 2023 World Cup, by which time he will be 38.

Farrell admits that prospect remains a possibility but stressed that reputation alone will be insufficient to guarantee a place on the plane to France.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has ambitions of playing at the 2023 World Cup
Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has ambitions of playing at the 2023 World Cup (Niall Carson/PA)

“It’s always going to be about performance – it has to be,” said Farrell, who has recently given Ross Byrne and Billy Burns opportunities in the number 10 jersey.

“The hunger and the drive in Johnny is never going to be any different. He’ll always strive to be the best that he can, so I’m sure his performances are going to be top draw.

“The older you get and the more you that you play, it’s always going to be about fitness and making sure you stay healthy. At this moment in time, Johnny feels really healthy.

“We’re pleased with where he’s at and the drive he has and we’ll keep assessing where we are at.”