Andy Farrell has explained the thinking behind his much changed Ireland team to host England this Saturday in the Dublin finale of the Guinness Six Nations. The head coach has rung six alterations, three due to injury and the others because of form and fatigue.
Garry Ringrose (ankle) and James Ryan (concussion) were both ruled out due to knocks sustained in last Sunday’s win over Scotland while Will Connors picked up a training ground knee injury. James Lowe, Jamison Gibson-Park and Cian Healy have also given way in the XV.
The reshuffle sees Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale and Conor Murray restored to the starting backs while Dave Kilcoyne, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan are the beneficiaries in a pack where the soon-to-retire CJ Stander will shift to blindside with Tadhg Beirne switching to second row.
Explaining the Ireland back row rejig featuring two called-up players and a positional switch for regular No8 Stander, Farrell outlined how Connors, last weekend’s openside, pulled up lame at training and will be replaced by van der Flier who has been in and out of the team in recent times.
“Will is unbelievably unfortunate. He has had a great tournament and really progressed. He is young as far as international rugby is concerned and is certainly on an upward curve. It was something of nothing, it was at the end of training doing some extras.
Did your No.8 ever do this for you?
If not, why not? Demand answers.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 18, 2021
“He came down in an awkward position on his knee and was ruled out straight away by our medics. He will have some more checks in the coming days and he’s back home at Leinster. Josh has been unlucky not to start a few more games than what he has because he is great form himself.
“When you tell a player he is not playing, sometimes you get a reaction in training and you actually go, ‘Geez, I wish I had have picked him’. Josh has been brimming like that for a good few weeks now so we are made up there is like for like coming in.
“CJ will 100 per cent just be himself. He is never any different. He is the most consistent player constantly week in week out. Jack adds something different, a bit of dynamism at the back of the scrum. He’s in great form as well coming back from injury, so he will be brimming to make a statement to say he is back on the international scene.”
Staying with the Ireland pack, where Kilcoyne got the nod ahead of the benched Healy, Farrell continued: “Dave has been great. He has not had that much game time but he has been great in training, his set-piece has been going really well and we all know that a six-day turnaround is a big thing in international rugby. Less time to prepare, less time to recover, so there was always a little bit of thinking like that in the back of my mind.”
Out the back, there are first appearances for Stockdale and Aki since they started the Autumn Nations Cup playoff win over Scotland in December while fit-again Murray, an unused sub last weekend, makes his first start since the Six Nations loss to Wales.
“We all know how dangerous Jacob is. He makes things happen. He has been out injured, he has lost a bit of weight, he looks sharp, he looks really sharp, he has had a good few games behind him (with Ulster) and he is ready to go. It gives us that left foot option as well, as did James.
“With James there is a few things we have talked about over the series, over the Six Nations. He is very young as far as international experience is concerned. He has learned a lot in his time in this Six Nations and we are looking forward to him progressing in the big games back at Leinster in the coming weeks.
“Conor has another week behind him training-wise, so he is fresh and fit and raring to go. He is a big-game player,” added Farrell, who also paid tribute to Stander who revealed his shock retirement announcement at the end of this season to the squad earlier this week.
“He made his decision six or seven weeks ago and he is in a great mood. I’m absolutely made up for him to be honest. He is very content with his decision, is very happy, and when you put all that into context, we’re happy for him as well. He is in great spirits.
“CJ deserves the right to speak to the players. He wanted to tell them first-hand rather than second-half. He didn’t want them to leave an Ireland camp with the news he already knows and not have the chance to address the group.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 18, 2021
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