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joys in blue Farrell hoping for bounce from Leinster connection

Coach backs cohesion as he looks for a convincing performance to dispel doubters

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Blues connection: Leinster's Garry Ringrose is tackled by Gaël Fickou during the Six Nations match between Ireland and France at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Blues connection: Leinster's Garry Ringrose is tackled by Gaël Fickou during the Six Nations match between Ireland and France at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Blues connection: Leinster's Garry Ringrose is tackled by Gaël Fickou during the Six Nations match between Ireland and France at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Considering the bad luck that’s come his way in recent weeks, it’s probably just as well that Andy Farrell doesn’t seem to be the superstitious type.

So, the bad omen that no Irish team with a full Leinster backline has ever won a Test match shouldn’t bother him too much. It’s happened twice before: in 1912 South Africa beat Ireland 38-0 at Lansdowne Road, while in 1931 Wales won 15-3.

Tomorrow, 90 years on, the combination of Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Johnny Sexton and Jamison Gibson-Park can make a little bit of history where their forefathers failed.

Of course, that will be of little consequence to the modern professionals who simply want to get their Six Nations up and running with a performance of quality.

Winning at an empty Stadio Olimpico won’t quite silence the doubters, but a display of attacking incision, defensive stinginess with a couple of strong debuts off the bench would be a fillip for this struggling team.

If Farrell was interested in courting popularity, he wouldn’t have gone with such a blue flavour in his team but the selection simply reflects the reality of where the balance of power lies in Irish rugby right now.

Within the realm of sports science, there are many who believe that team cohesion is the most important dynamic to success in rugby and Farrell has gone for that with this team.

With limited time to build combinations, he is superimposing them from the club game on to the international set-up.

With Conor Murray still injured, picking Jamison Gibson-Park to partner Johnny Sexton makes sense. The back three know each other well, while the centres are a formidable pairing.

Up front, there is less familiarity but the Iain Henderson-James Ryan axis looks like Farrell’s preferred combination at second-row, while the presence of Tadhg Beirne at blindside flanker points to some long-term planning in that position.

The front-row is a new combination, but with Cian Healy’s form on the wane there’s a real chance for Dave Kilcoyne to earn a start against Scotland.

Likewise, Rónan Kelleher gets a shot at the No 2 shirt, while Tadhg Furlong makes his first start for over a year.

Farrell said he wants to see his hooker make a big impact on the defensive side of the game, while maintaining his physical edge with ball in hand. A solid set-piece would complete the set.

Off the bench, Farrell is hoping to hand Craig Casey and Ryan Baird their debuts, while Jack Conan has leapfrogged Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier into the side.

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The Wicklow man may not crank up the numbers like CJ Stander, but he is more natural fit at No 8 and is in fine form.

Farrell often comes to his media briefings with a theme. Yesterday, the word “clinical” was used liberally.

“It all comes down to having a clinical edge at this level, right at the top,” he said.

“Our fight, our want, our will to impose ourselves against the opposition has been top class.

“The finishing clinical edge is obviously the missing part of the ingredient for any side that wants to be world-class.

“That’s what we’re striving for and hopefully we can make a jump in that direction this week.

“I want them to respect the game, respect the Italians. Go over there with the right attitude, the right fight and the right want to play the game as it should be and having a clinical edge to back that up.”

By going with such a strong team, Farrell has prioritised confidence and momentum in the short-term over the long-term squad development.

It won’t please the masses, but he’ll be happy with a cohesive display and a comprehensive win.

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