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landmark moment Andy Farrell issues challenge to Ireland out-halves as he prepares to hand Johnny Sexton 100th cap

Farrell insists he is not concerned by the gap between Johnny Sexton and rest of the Ireland out-halves

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Joey Carbery (left) is trying to displace Johnny Sexton as Ireland's starting ten.

Joey Carbery (left) is trying to displace Johnny Sexton as Ireland's starting ten.

Joey Carbery (left) is trying to displace Johnny Sexton as Ireland's starting ten.

Andy Farrell insists he is not concerned by the gap between Johnny Sexton and rest of the Ireland out-halves, as the head coach defended his decision to select 12 Leinster players in Saturday's team to face Japan.

Apart from Robbie Henshaw, who is still sidelined with a foot injury, Gavin Coombes was the only other player unavailable for selection, as the Munster No 8 didn't train all week due to a non-Covid related virus.

Farrell acknowledged that Sexton, who is set to win his 100th cap against Japan, is the clear first-choice ten, but he brushed off the suggestion that it was a risk to be so reliant on the 36-year-old at this stage of the World Cup cycle.

Joey Carbery will start on the bench this weekend, as he provides back-up to Sexton, with Harry Byrne not selected in the match-day 23.

“It’s certainly not a worry,” Farrell said.

“Johnny is a world-class player so why would I worry about that?

“What do we want to see from Joey and Harry? We want to see them pushing Johnny. Johnny isn’t just going to stand to the side and say, ‘There you guys, off you go and take over now.'

“We want those guys and the other 10s to challenge Johnny and knock him off his perch. That’s what competition is all about in a squad.

“The way that Johnny has started the season as the in-form 10. I think we would all agree with that but the more that the likes of Joey and Harry get the opportunities to come into camp… sometimes training and the pressures that we put on them in some aspects of the game are daunting enough, sometimes even more so than in the game anyway.

“If Johnny is healthy and competing and playing at the top of his game, again, we want people to knock him off his perch.

“I have absolutely no doubt that if that does happen, that the likes of Joey and Harry and Jack Carty, Billy Burns, whoever that may be, it has to make them a better player anyway if they want the shirt. If they don't want the shirt, then that won't happen.

"He's not going to give it up easily and it's not just Johnny. It's the other guys in the squad, that's what you want. You don't want to just hand something over to someone that doesn't deserve it. That's not a squad.

"They love the honest feedback and that's how we are with them. They want to know how they can improve and what they have to do to improve.

“A lot of the time at this level because of the speed and intensity of training, it's the calmness of thought in that type of position. Learning to deal with that, with the pressure of trying to understand how best you can get prepared in such a short space of time, it's daunting enough.

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"Joey has been out for quite some time, as you know. Harry is pretty inexperienced in that regard. We hope this experience will stand to them."

Farrell hailed Sexton's longevity, as the veteran gets set to captain Ireland on his 100th cap in front of a home crowd at the Aviva Stadium.

“A lot has been said already about him and we can carry on on the same subject for years to come as well and not just this week because, I said it last week, he is a one-in-a-generation player,” Farrell said.

“That says it all, really. How many of those are about? How many of those are coming through? It’s pretty rare in any sport. I think that says it all.”

With regard to selecting 12 Leinster players and another two (Andrew Conway and Tadhg Beirne) who came through the Leinster system, Farrell said:

“I’ve been on record before saying I would never do the squad a disservice by looking at who I’m picking in terms of who they play for.

“It’s certainly not fair to the team or the squad and 100pc not fair to an individual. We pick the team on merit, on what is right, and where the squad is at at that point in time.”

Farrell is excited to see how Andrew Porter goes as a starting loosehead, while the Ireland boss also praised Dan Sheehan's impact in training, as the Leinster hooker gets set to make his international debut off the bench.

With Porter starting alongside Leinster team-mates Ronan Kelleher and Tadhg Furlong, Farrell is hoping it will be the first of many starts together, as he confirmed that he still sees Cian Healy as a loosehead, despite him recently dabbling on the tighthead side of the scrum.

“He (Porter) has been great,” he added.

“The scrums have been very competitive, as you would imagine. We have picked a big enough squad to make sure that that is competitive at the set-piece. We always want to keep improving in that aspect. To see Ports and Tadhg on the field together at the same time is something that I’m sure we’re all looking forward to.

“We all know his background as a junior coming through. I was there in 2015 when we was toying with the idea and we saw him have a fantastic game against Wales in the loosehead position as well.

“It’s something that we’ve talked about without actually giving him the full chance to prove himself in that regard. He has been more than open to the idea and he has had a full summer to get stuck into it.

“He is very comfortable with the fact that we know he is a top-class tighthead as well but he has taken to the loosehead side of things and we’re all excited to see how he goes on Saturday.”

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