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Covid risk forces Ireland to bring 31-man squad to Paris, but still no room for Cooney

By Liam Heagney

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Andy Farrell has named the Ireland matchday 23 that he hopes can beat France next Saturday and potentially deny England the 2020 Six Nations title. In doing so, though, he shed light on the extremes of Test rugby in the Covid era. Six Nations officials are looking to complete the championship seven months after its March finale was postponed due to the pandemic, but travel has become very different in these uncertain times.


Whereas Ireland would have travelled to London last February with just two additional players on standby outside the matchday 23 to face England in case of any 11th-hour injury, they will fly out to Paris with an extended squad of 31 – a total of eight additional players outside the chosen matchday 23.

“We’ll be travelling with 31,” revealed Farrell after he named an Ireland XV showing one change from last weekend’s win over Italy, Robbie Henshaw starting in place of Garry Ringrose who suffered a broken jaw 27 minutes in that victory.  

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“You’re allowed 29 to warm up. You need to take a bigger squad with you now with Covid risk etc, so you need to prepare and have all bases covered. We’ll travel with 31 guys, 24 to 31 who will be prepared to step in at any given moment.”

Unfortunately for John Cooney fans, it doesn’t mean the Ulster scrum-half will be with the travelling party. Cooney came off the bench in the three February Six Nations games as a replacement for Conor Murray, but he was axed from the squad earlier this month. 

A doubt over Jamison Gibson-Park’s hamstring at the start of the week resulted in Cooney getting summoned to training, but that will be the extent of his involvement after New Zealander Gibson-Park was passed fit on Wednesday. “It’s like last week, Kieran Marmion came in with us into the hotel in Dublin before the game. It’s the same thing applies, he will travel us to Paris,” said Farrell, explaining who his third-choice scrum-half currently is.  


Table-topping Ireland head to Paris knowing that a bonus-point win will guarantee them the Six Nations title and Farrell, who has four games under his belt as head coach after succeeding Joe Schmidt, can’t wait to see what unfolds. 

“Wow, it would be unbelievable to even think about it [winning the title]. I’m not allowing myself to go there. Just to be involved with this group of lads is a special group. If you win trophies, you win trophies together and it’s certainly nothing to do with me, it’s a collective effort.

“It doesn’t get any better really. It’s an unbelievable challenge ahead of us just to go over there to try and win a Test match. If that doesn’t get you excited then you don’t deserve to be in a week like this in the first place.

“It’s going to be a game of feel… it certainly won’t be one of high-risk strategy otherwise you have seen the type of team that we’re playing against, we could end up shooting ourselves in the foot massively.


“It’s a daunting task. We have won there before when there was a full house. This will be a little bit different but the game is still the game. The clashes will still happen, the tactics will still unfold and it’s who handles that on the day the best will come out on top.”

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Covid risk forces Ireland to bring 31-man squad to Paris, but still no room for Cooney