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Rebuilding Farrell planning for future as he picks 10 new faces

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Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

John Cooney replacing Conor Murray. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

John Cooney replacing Conor Murray. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

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Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

As tends to be the case with most squad announcements, there is an inevitable rush to seek outrage in who hasn't been included, rather than focus on who has.

Those who are that way inclined didn't have to look too far into Ireland's Six Nations selection, as John Cooney's omission caused consternation in many quarters.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, there has been less made of the positives - most notably that Andy Farrell has included 10 uncapped players in his wider group, which is a clear nod to his intention to build for the future.

Irish rugby has been crying out for a head coach to pick on form and for the most part supporters - who are able to put their provincial bias to the side - would surely agree that Farrell got his picks spot on.

There will always be exceptions and that Cooney has been left out, yet Conor Murray has been included has made for an easy talking point.

Prior to lockdown, Cooney was arguably one of the form players in Europe, let alone Ireland, but he has dipped since rugby's return, so much so that Ulster dropped the scrum-half for their biggest game in years.

Unconvinced

We don't get to see what goes on behind the scenes and how players act within a squad, but it should be said that Joe Schmidt, Dan McFarland and Andy Farrell have all been unconvinced by Cooney at different stages. Perhaps that speaks volumes.

On the flip side, Murray hasn't been at his best either, and is also carrying a thigh injury.

Although he is some way off his lofty high standards, you don't just discard someone of his vast experience.

Many may not agree, but the fact is Murray remains an integral part of the Ireland squad and until someone is good enough to force him out, he is here to stay.

A rejuvenated Kieran Marmion will hope to do just that, as will the in-form Jamison Gibson-Park.

The Leinster man is one of six uncapped players in the main squad, as Gibson-Park joins Ryan Baird, Ed Byrne, Will Connors, Shane Daly and Hugo Keenan.

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John Cooney replacing Conor Murray. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

John Cooney replacing Conor Murray. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

John Cooney replacing Conor Murray. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

When you consider that exciting young talents such as Harry Byrne, Craig Casey, Fineen Wycherley, as well as James Lowe (who doesn't qualify until November), have all been included as development players, then there is a lot to look forward to.

Baird has been promoted from the development group and is now primed for his debut. After another excellent display for Leinster last weekend, Farrell must be seriously considering starting the 21-year-old lock against Italy on October 24.

Connors will also feel that he, too, isn't far away from a first cap - and having been expected to feature in the postponed Italy game back in March, the Leinster openside has pushed on again since.

It will be interesting to see how Farrell approaches the next couple of months. He is expected to go with strong teams for the remaining Six Nations clashes against Italy and France, before juggling his resources for the Autumn Nations Cup.

With the 2023 World Cup seedings already confirmed ahead of December's draw, there is less pressure on the upcoming games.

Farrell is, of course, expected to deliver, but amidst that expectation is hope that he will be given license to build while blooding the younger players.

Daly and Keenan are fascinating prospects, and having both come through the Ireland Sevens system, they will battle it out at full-back.

Given that Farrell has opted for just two looseheads, Ed Byrne will certainly see game-time.

Byrne has bounced back admirably from a couple of serious injuries and with Dave Kilcoyne sidelined, he will provide back-up for his Leinster team-mate Cian Healy.

Johnny Sexton retains the captaincy as he pushes to win his fitness race. Other new, younger leaders are emerging, however, with James Ryan, Garry Ringrose and Caelan Doris all well capable of stepping up.

The challenge facing Farrell is to strike the right balance between youth and experience.

There is no doubt that certain members of the old guard need to repay the faith shown in them, but with a plethora of new faces shaking things up, there is reason to be optimistic about what the future may hold for Irish rugby.

Herald