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The dramatic 7.45 am SOS call Ireland put into Belfast on Sunday morning

By Liam Heagney

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So much for the best-laid plans of Ireland boss Andy Farrell. There he was last Friday afternoon, naming his latest XV and thinking all was ready for taking on Argentina 48 hours later in their final match of their three-game Autumn Nations Series. The trouble was that just 13 of the 15 Ireland players he originally chose to start made it onto the field for the kick-off and one of the changes even necessitated an emergency call getting put into Nick Timoney 160kms away in Belfast just six and a half hours before the 2:15pm start. 

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It was Saturday when it first emerged that Jack Conan had picked up a niggle but the optimism was that he would pitch up healthy and fill the No8 jersey he had been allocated. Not so. 

A Sunday morning check confirmed he was out and with replacement Peter O’Mahony promoted into the starting team, the sudden bench vacancy resulted in Ireland giving Timoney a call asking him could he make the two-hour trip south to take up a place on the replacements bench? 

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The 26-year-old, who made his debut in the July win over the USA, had been released back to Ulster on Friday after not making the Test match 23, but he jumped at the sudden chance to make a second-ever appearance for Ireland and his rushed journey to Dublin wasn’t in vain, Timoney stepping off the bench on the hour-mark to help his team transform a then 34-7 lead into a 53-7 margin of victory.  

It wasn’t the only selection drama, either. Iain Henderson had arrived at the Aviva Stadium all set to start in the engine room alongside James Ryan but he pulled up lame in the warm-up. The ensuing late reshuffle saw Tadhg Beirne switch from the bench into a starting role and Ryan Baird coming in for Beirne as a replacement.  

“The scoreline is very flattering for us,” reckoned Farrell, for whom the win was an eighth success in a row for Ireland, quite an improvement from the mid-February record showing just six wins from his first eleven outings in charge since succeeding Joe Schmidt post the 2019 World Cup. “I don’t know whether the first half was so dominant. 

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“The most pleasing thing why it ended that way (in a 46-point win) was that a whole lot of lads got some well-deserved game time. There was a bit of controversy that we had to deal with throughout the morning and right up until kick-off and we dealt with it well. 

“Jack Conan felt something in his quad Saturday and we gave him until this morning. We thought he would be okay but he wasn’t. We didn’t even get to the warm-up with him. At 7.45am Nick Timoney got a call to come back down from Belfast. It just shows the strength of the group that he is covering six, seven and eight and can do it seamlessly. 

“For all the mix-up Sunday morning, Tadhg Beirne was covering second row and then all of a sudden he is covering six, seven and eight and then he is back into second row again and he plays a match like that. Pete comes off the bench to play the full game and ends up captaining the side and has a stormer. The most pleasing part about the month we have been together is the cohesion as a group.”

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The dramatic 7.45 am SOS call Ireland put into Belfast on Sunday morning

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