Ireland coach Andy Farrell has broken his silence on the John Cooney situation eight days after the popular Ulster scrum-half was left out of the national squad for the upcoming Six Nations games against Italy and France. 

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Farrell unveiled a 35-strong squad on October 8 for the autumn Test programme that begins in Dublin on October 24 against the Italians. 

There was no room for Cooney and also Leinster’s Luke McGrath, the respective first-choice Ulster and Leinster scrum-halves both getting left out to accommodate the uncapped Jamison Gibson-Park and Kieran Marmion.

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It was doubly tough on Cooney as he was touted as being a likely Ireland starter when the match versus Italy was originally due to be played in early March. However, that was postponed due to the outbreak of the pandemic and despite having subbed for Conor Murray in the three February Six Nations games, he now finds himself looking in from the outside.   

“I wouldn’t say it’s a new direction,” said Farrell when asked about his scrum-half selection thinking. “John Cooney is a great player. Luke McGrath is a great player as well and Luke has missed out. I don’t get any pleasure whatsoever from not picking lads. 

“I know they are desperate to play for their country and rightfully so but you have got to make a call, what’s good for the team and you look at all sorts of things regarding selection. Obviously, form, attitude, what the last seven months have looked like, how they have come back etc and my job is to make sure I select a team that is going to keep everyone on their toes.

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“Competition for places has got to be one of the key factors going forward for this team and some people are going to lose out, but I hope that galvanises them and I hope that they come back bigger and stronger and give us a few headaches along the way.”

Farrell added that injury concerns Johnny Sexton and Andrew Porter are progressing encouragingly before next week’s team selection to face the Azzurri. 

“They have got a few protocols to come through but they are looking good. They trained a low key session Thursday and got through that absolutely fine. We have got a decent old session Saturday and we’ll see how they go with that, but at this moment in time they are progressing very well.”

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