'What's acceptable and what’s not': Farrell explains his Ireland XV
Andy Farrell has insisted squad depth will be key to Ireland achieving their dream of Rugby World Cup glory after handing opportunities to a number of fringe players for Saturday’s warm-up clash with Italy.
Ulster lock Iain Henderson will captain the side, lining up in the second row alongside Joe McCarthy, who will make his first international start, while wing Jacob Stockdale will play at Test level for the first time in two years.
Head coach Farrell, who is due to cut his 42-man squad down to a final 33 following further fixtures against England and Samoa, wants a full complement of players fit and firing moving towards the tournament in France but dismissed the notion he is experimenting.
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“We are at a stage where we are all gagging for a game,” he said. “And you are judging constantly how preparation is going and trying to balance that out with a side that has got the experience and youth.
“I’m 100 per cent sure there are some individuals that will take the field saying to themselves that ‘this a big chance and big opportunity for me’.
“You have got to surround those people with good enough experienced players as well to be able to judge them properly, so we are looking forward to that.
“I wouldn’t say we are experimenting. You win World Cups because of the strength of your squad so we are trying to find out about people that have done so well to get picked in the initial 42 and now they have got the opportunity to represent the group.
“They know the expectation of how we want to play and what is acceptable and what’s not.”
Sexton’s three-match ban has opened the door for rookie number 10s Crowley, Frawley and Ross Byrne to gain some much-needed Test experience during the next month.
In-form Crowley is the first to be handed an opportunity to impress, having starred during his province’s United Rugby Championship success at the end of last season. “He has been excellent but how that transfers into a performance is different,” Farrell said of Crowley.
“He has been going great. I have seen his confidence grow, obviously from what happened with Munster, being able to help navigate his team through those difficult periods and get some success.
“The minute that selection comes, it’s a different week as far as managing the team and being the main general as far as Jack is concerned. We have been keeping a close eye on that and he has been excellent so far.”
Farrell was speaking publicly for the first time since Sexton, who has not played since the Guinness Six Nations due to injury, was hit with a three-match ban for misconduct. “He has been all systems go, right from the start,” the Englishman said of his 38-year-old skipper’s performances in training.
“He has not missed a session, he has not dropped out of anything. If there was a game two or three weeks ago, he was able to play, no doubt. Obviously, he is disappointed not to be able to play in these games but he is in great form.”