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Farrell explains Ireland changes and what 'explosive' bench can do

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

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Andy Farrell is hoping that an “explosive” Ireland bench featuring four 2021 Lions tourists can successfully tip the outcome their way against England on Saturday. The Irish are Twickenham-bound for what is essentially a Guinness Six Nations round four title eliminator versus Eddie Jones’ English. 

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Ireland are travelling having announced a starting XV that shows six changes from the facile 57-6 win over Italy on February 27 and their bench thinking has caught the eye, Farrell keeping Iain Henderson, Jack Conan, Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw in reserve with a view to them coming on late and tilting the result.

Conan, Murray and Henshaw were all Test series starters on last year’s Lions tour to South Africa, a trip that Henderson also made where he featured against the provincial teams. It’s a wealth of experience that Farrell now wants to use to influence the round four championship result in London.  

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“You look at our bench – we have got an experienced bench, an explosive bench that can come on and add to our performance and that is pretty important,” he enthused after naming a team in which Hugo Keenen, Andrew Conway, Bundee Aki, skipper Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy and James Ryan were named to start in place of Michael Lowry, Mack Hansen, Henshaw, Joey Carbery, the injured Andrew Porter and Ryan Baird.  

“Selection is always difficult, it doesn’t matter what game you are talking about. We have a very good squad and we have said all along it would be a squad effort, squad togetherness that gets us through this competition and puts us in a good position. There were some tough decisions to make this week but we feel the balance of the team is a good one.

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“Bundee has been playing really well,” he added when asked why Aki, another Lions tourist, had been given the No12 jersey ahead of Henshaw. “There are big aspects of his game that have come on strong. He is known for his aggressive ball carrying style but the delicacies of his game have really come on as well so we think he deserves a game. Having said that, Robbie lacked a little bit of game time but he is good to go, fully fit, raring to come on and add to the team as well.”

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A particular talking point was the retention of Peter O’Mahony to start on the blindside. With Conan returning from the recent Lions tour as a Test series starter, Farrell had been using him at No8 with Caelan Doris his preferred No6. However, against Italy, he shifted Doris to No8 at the expense of the benched Conan and O’Mahony, the 2017 Lions first Test skipper, started at flanker.

He will now start O’Mahony again at Twickenham with Conan kept on the replacements. “Both are great players. We just think the balance is right for this game. Pete is in good form, not just physically but he is a good emotional leader for us as well. 

“Leadership is a big part of every team performance and we know what Pete brings as far as the set-piece is concerned and the breakdown is concerned but the rest of his game has come on an absolute treat. His attack stuff has really stepped up. He played really well against Italy. I also thought Jack played really well coming off the bench and had a big impact.”

Switching to why Lowe was named ahead of Hansen and why Healy got the nod to replace the injured Porter, Ireland boss Farrell continued: “We have all seen it, the progression in the autumn (of Lowe) and the learnings that he had taken on board to be able to perform on the big stage at international level is something we want to see at the weekend. 

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“He is a big threat ball in hand. He also links very well as does Mack and we all know he has got a left boot in his as well. It’s a big advantage for us. 

“It’s something we have been toying with,” he added about the loosehead selection. “Cian has been champing at the bit for an opportunity as is David (Kilcoyne), we feel that the combination at set-piece is pretty important with Cian there. He will go hard and David will add when he comes on. 

“We have got to make sure they [England] have got a bump in the road. They are building through the competition but we have to put a stop to that. That is our intention, to go over there and prove to ourselves there is a performance in there for us that is a step above what we have shown already.”

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