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Andy Farrell leaning on one thing Ireland 'have got pretty decent at'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

World Cup years haven’t been kind to Ireland boss Andy Farrell as a Test level assistant. England blew a Guinness Six Nations title in 2015 and then went on to implode at the finals, getting eliminated at the pool stage in their own backyard. Four years later in Japan, Ireland were filleted in the quarter-finals by the All Blacks after a Six Nations that exposed cracks that couldn’t be fixed in time.

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No longer a defence coach (that brief is Simon Easterby’s), Farrell is now master of all he surveys in Ireland having originally moved across the Irish Sea in 2016 to work under Joe Schmidt and ahead of a championship campaign that opens away to Wales on February 4, he is optimistic that the currently ranked world No1 side can deliver like never before in a World Cup calendar year.

Why? Because he believes that the mentality of the class of 2023 is more steeled than previously when high-pressure campaigns came apart at the seams. “It’s not just about what I learned,” he said, harking back to 2019 when the warning bells sounded as soon as the opening day defeat to England in Dublin in the Six Nations, a year that culminated in an embarrassing RWC schooling by New Zealand.

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“Obviously we learned a lot. It is well documented things that went on back then and the reasons why with the report etc, it’s all there and it’s out there for everyone to look at. But it’s just about us and our own standards and what it is that we are trying to achieve. That is all that matters – getting the right competition, the right people in the room is crucial to that.

“But how we go about our daily business and how we keep growing not just our game on the field but how we keep growing our togetherness off the field will make us even stronger for the World Cup because what I think we have got pretty decent at is having an no-excuse mentality to whatever may be thrown our way during this Six Nations or at the World Cup. We’re pretty good at being resilient now and being able to see it for what it is and move on, that is on and off the field.”

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Ireland couldn’t handle the pressure in 2019 and failed to react quick enough to other wounding setbacks such as the Twickenham humiliation in a warm-up versus England that was followed a month later by a damaging pool loss at the finals to Japan. Now the pressure is building again, with the No1 ranked Ireland touted as Six Nations title favourites and expected to achieve like never before at the World Cup (Ireland have never made it to semi-finals).

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“It’s about how we go out there and perform, how we are fighting together to improve,” added Farrell. “Internally that is the main thing for is, being honest of where we are at and what we need to get better at and it’s very evident to us how our performances have gone over the last year of where we need to improve and get better at so hopefully that looks after itself.

“Whether it does or it doesn’t the pressure is more internally than anything. At the same time, if the pressure from the outside starts to seep in a little bit it’s good for us to be able to deal with that. We want to get better for what’s down the track for obvious reasons and dealing with a different type of pressure is going to be priceless for us going forward.

“We are a fit side, that is for everyone to see. There is a realisation of the game we want to play and how we want to play it, high tempo, high speed type scenario so we have got a fit side and selection shows you that. That is the type of game that we want to keep pushing forward.”

A curve ball is the anticipated renewal of England, the team skippered by Farrell’s son Owen which now has Steve Borthwick in charge following the recent dismissal of Eddie Jones. Will there be a bounce? “Immediately, 100 per cent,” reckoned the Ireland boss. “Steve is a very bright bloke and some of the things that he has already done will make a difference.

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“He is obviously listening to people and is very connected. He knows exactly what is going on the squad, just like Eddie did when he took over from Stuart (Lancaster). I expect there to be an immediate bounce.”

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