Farrell's gain Twickenham clash could be painful but Farrell is right to make bold selection calls for Ireland's long-term gain
The case for recalling Conor Murray for Saturday’s trip to Twickenham was compelling. Andy Farrell could have justified picking the Munster man in any number of ways and each one would have had a logic to it.
Primarily, with Johnny Sexton out of action it would have been easy to reinstate Murray based on his vast international experience to help Ross Byrne through.
Instead, the Ireland coach has stayed true to his plan for this November.
Scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park is starting his second game at this level and, when he feeds the set-piece it will be hooker Ronan Kelleher – also making his second start – who hooks it back through Quinn Roux’s (seven starts) legs to Caelan Doris who is making his third start in the No 8 shirt.
When Gibson-Park looks up from the scrum, he’ll seek out Ross Byrne who is another player in for his second start.
Likewise, Hugo Keenan at full-back and James Lowe on the left wing.
Like the Murray call, Farrell could easily have looked at the lack of experience in his team and decided to hold off on anointing James Ryan as captain. Peter O’Mahony has done the job before and is in the team after all.
That would have been the conservative call, but instead the first-time captain – a man long-touted for this role – must now bind together a side with low experience for one of rugby’s toughest tests.
Recalling Keith Earls and retaining O’Mahony in the team has brought up Ireland’s average number of caps, but if you remove the Munster pair and Cian Healy the remaining 12 players have an average of 15 caps each.
Eddie Jones names his team today and you can bet that the Australian is going full metal jacket for this one.
His team will be laced with experience, power and pace. World Cup finalists capable of running up big scores against Irish opposition when the mood takes them.
Farrell is keen to emphasise the fact that this is a new team, but enough of them have experience of difficult days against England and Saracens to have scar tissue.
And nobody makes their superiority count like this England team, in particular their talisman Maro Itoje and captain Owen Farrell who are determined to ram home every little victory with vocal celebration that borders on goading.
If Itoje and friends are making noise, then Ireland are in trouble.
“That type of chat comes from things going their way and putting themselves in a position for that to happen,” Andy Farrell said.
“For example, if you keep sending players into brick walls all the time, then they’ll get an opportunity to be able to do that. If the set-piece doesn’t go how you’d want it to go, you give them opportunities to do that.
“We gain confidence from how we prepare and how our game is rolling along,” Farrell continued.
“I thought we did that pretty well last week as far as the Wales game is concerned. I have absolutely no doubt that Wales came to the Aviva wanting to be physical and mess things up a little bit physically.
“I thought we were cool and calm and reacted how we should react, by playing some good rugby and being dominant in how we play the game.”
The fear for this Irish team is that they’ve gone quiet in the face of English aggression over the course of a damaging 20-month period.
Of course, some of Ireland’s new faces are not young men and have plenty of experience from elsewhere.
A third of the team qualify on residency and were recruited for their international potential and points of difference.
Bundee Aki, CJ Stander, Quinn Roux, Lowe and Gibson-Park weren’t reared on this rivalry, but if Ireland are to win on Saturday they’ll all have big parts to play.
When England turned this relationship on its head in 2018, Ben Youngs laid out their intentions simply when he said they had to “win the air and win the ground”.
Manu Tuilagi did plenty of damage and he’s not there this weekend, but there are plenty of other weapons in Jones’ arsenal.
Healy, Kelleher and Andrew Porter have a point to prove after their scrum malfunction against Saracens in September, but Roux’s strong presence should provide some ballast in that department.
Ryan has plenty resting on his young shoulders. The presence of O’Mahony and Stander should lighten the leadership burden and, having come out on the wrong side of his last couple of encounters with Itoje, he could do with a big game.
O’Mahony stood tall against Wales, but Ireland need all of his aggression here. If he has a quiet day, then his team are in trouble.
The fear is we’ll get a repeat of the last three Ireland performances against England, that the pack will wilt in the face of the English carriers and dominant tacklers and the backline won’t be able to handle the varied kicking game and multiple running threats.
Yet the previous teams that failed against England were packed with experience and these players are the future of the team.
It could be an uncomfortable afternoon, but the only way to get experience is play.
Twickenham is a tough place to learn. Some will sink, others will swim. The fear is they won’t stay afloat as a team.
There’s only one way to find out.
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