spring silverware 'Our focus has been pretty good' - Winning the Six Nations is next step for Andy Farrell
The Ireland coach wants to earn silverware this spring after promising November campaign
At one point during yesterday’s Guinness Six Nations launch, Andy Farrell was drawn into a discussion on long-term planning for the 2023 World Cup. The Ireland coach put that tournament to the fore of the agenda a year ago, when he and his captain Johnny Sexton spoke publicly about wanting to build towards France.
That remains the overall goal of Farrell’s four-year project, but right now his focus is firmly on short-term success and winning the thing that’s in front of him.
Four years ago, Ireland were on the cusp of their greatest season; claiming a Grand Slam, a series win in Australia and a first home victory over New Zealand over the course of an incredible 12 months.
They reached their summit and then fell off a cliff at the worst possible time and Farrell had a front-row seat for the entire experience.
“You’d be pretty foolish not to learn from the experience,” he said.
“We will be better equipped because we’re already seeing some gains in what we’re trying to achieve and that’s growing the depth of the squad.
“Competition for places going into a World Cup needs to be fierce, really. It needs to be a really competitive edge for us and that’s what we’re trying to grow and I think we’re seeing bits of that already.”
Ireland were No 1 in the world going to Japan, but Farrell does not believe they bought into their own hype.
“I don’t think we got ahead of ourselves. World rankings become a little bit irrelevant as you build up to the World Cup and there’s so many different permutations of why that happens anyway,” he said.
“No, the last World Cup we were certainly focused, certainly confident, going in the right way.
“We just came unstuck in the second game. That was the problem.
“We came unstuck against a Japanese side at home that performed unbelievably well and we were missing a few players that day and we didn’t adapt well enough to the team that we were playing.
“And the way that they played for the first 20 minutes, we didn’t adapt to that and we didn’t adapt to the conditions well enough either.”
Ultimately, while the long term is part of his thinking, the present is all-encompassing.
“The World Cup is always something in the back of people’s minds. It’s something that you’re striving towards and people have got to know where they’re going. But the only way you get there is by concentrating on the here and now,” Farrell said.
“We want to deliver a trophy every single time that we enter a competition and this year is certainly no different.
“It’s always pretty important to keep an eye on where we are going and why we are on this journey.
“But at the same time, you want to enjoy the journey and kick on, if you really focus on the here and now.
“Our focus has been pretty good over the last couple of competitions, of getting on point and understanding how to meet up and get back together cohesively.
“Not just as rugby players, but as people as well.”
They kick off on Saturday week against Wales and, James Lowe and Jacob Stockdale aside, Farrell has all of his frontliners in the squad.
Iain Henderson is the biggest doubt, according to the coach, but he trained at Abbotstown yesterday; as did Joey Carbery and James Ryan, while Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Keith Earls and Tadhg Furlong sat out the session. All 37 players travel to the Algarve today and Farrell reckons all will be training by the end of the week.
Furlong’s fitness will be key. Along with his Leinster team-mates, Andrew Porter and Rónan Kelleher, the tighthead is an integral part of the most dynamic front-row in the tournament and their power in contact sets the tone for a team that want to play with pace.
“It’s there for all to see how they play the game,” Farrell said of his bash brothers.
“All three of them can play 80 minutes, which is pretty rare in the modern game. Playing the 80 minutes at the standard that they bring, week in, week out, is phenomenal to see.
“Do you know what? The thing is there are people that are pushing them as well and they realise that and we’re very grateful to have nine front-row guys that are in our camp with us and they’ll be pushing every single day to push the standards on for all the group.
“We want to play every game as quick as we can and so does every other team. I’m sure about that.
“As I always say, each game takes its own course and certainly when you try and predict how things are going to go in the Six Nations, you come away with egg on your face, trying to predict it, as a punter, never mind being a coach.
“There are so many variables aren’t there? Whether it be momentum, red cards, bonus points, the weather . . . you’ve got to be adaptable and roll with the punches because that’s what the Six Nations is – a competition that is like no other.”
Farrell repeatedly hit on his point about competition driving standards.
“It’s great, it’s something we’ve talked about for a good couple of years now,” he said when asked about the picture at centre, where he must choose two from Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw, James Hume and Garry Ringrose.
“We want more. We want more competition for places in all areas, because if you have that, we’re going to keep getting better in training every single day and that will kick us on as a team.”
November heightened expectations in Ireland, but the coach believes his side have plenty of scope to improve on their performances.
“They know the standard they’re at and they know that we’ve got to be better than that so hopefully that’s what we’re all trying to achieve,” he said.
“Every single time we meet up we want to get better, we want to grow as a group. It’s just getting better at the things that we’ve been trying to get better at over the last 18 months or so.
“The good thing is that we’re nowhere near there yet. I was saying to the lads yesterday that there’s a good foundation that’s been built and there’s a real belief in how we’re trying to play the game.
“It came together in parts pretty well in the autumn and the aim is 100pc to kick on and push the boundaries even further.”
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