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FEATURE Who should Andy Farrell bring Down Under?

Who should Andy Farrell bring Down Under?
4 months ago

The Six Nations confirmed a few things for those of us watching from Australia in the early hours of the morning. Chief among these was a glimpse of who might be heading our way in Andy Farrell’s British and Irish Lions squad next year.

Ireland remain one of the best teams in the game right now, and haven’t shown any signs of adverse comedown after their World Cup quarter-final exit. With largely the same squad, playing largely the same style of rugby, the Irish were one England drop-goal away from a second-straight Grand Slam.

Ireland missed out on a Grand Slam, but were still comfortable victory in this year’s Six Nations (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

England’s three wins from five might suggest their trajectory isn’t quite as bad as the headlines have made out, but their form on the field tells the real story. Their win over Ireland, as well as they played, can’t paper over some very obvious lingering cracks.

Scotland showed on their day they’re capable of beating anyone, as long as Ireland are not part of that day. Or Italy with momentum. Or France edging closer to internal crisis.

And that just leaves Wales. Their first wooden spoon since 2003 compelled Warren Gatland to theoretically offer his resignation – which was instantly rejected, such is the scale of the rebuild job the Welsh Rugby Union believe only he is capable of overseeing. It is unlikely Welsh names in Farrell’s Lions squad will be plentiful.

The future of the rugby in Australia literally hangs on this tour, certainly in a professional sense.

RA will be banking on tens of thousands of British and Irish tourists making the trip, almost as much as they sweat on a competitive Wallabies side to greet the Lions on the field.

With private equity valuations falling well short of the governing body’s lofty financial ambitions in 2023, Rugby Australia had to make the prudent decision to reject lowball offers and take up a loan facility to keep the game going, knowing the Lions would be the first major revenue generator.

RA will be banking on tens of thousands of British and Irish tourists making the trip, almost as much as they sweat on a competitive Wallabies side to greet the Lions on the field. Tickets went on sale to the public in Australia this week.

And in the worst kind of catch-22 scenario, the form of the Wallabies in 2024 could certainly impact the number of tourists in 2025. Who’d be a rugby accountant?

Then there’s the whole Farrell v Joe Schmidt thing, pitting the current Ireland coach up against the man he succeeded in the job.

Australian rugby got all excited back in 2016 when Eddie Jones bought his England team to Australia and clean-swept a three-Test series against his old Randwick teammate, Michael Cheika. But as professional coaching colleagues, Farrell and Schmidt will know each other a hell of a lot more than a couple of old club players.

The cash influx of a British and Irish Lions tour – and the massive following it generates – is critical for Rugby Australia (Photo by PA)

So, who will Farrell bring with him to Australia?

If current form is a pointer to future performance – it is all selectors can use, after all – then expect the Lions to carry a huge Irish influence, as it should.

Look at the Ireland team which finished the Six Nations, add in the injured Hugo Keenan and Mack Hansen, and perhaps remove Peter O’Mahony, if reporting about the captain’s potential retirement is accurate, and you’d expect most to make the cut.

It’s not too big a leap to expect Farrell would see his current tactical blueprint – the one which took Ireland to the top of the World Rugby rankings on a record unbeaten run – as being a recipe for success in Australia. And that’s despite most of the current Australian playing group going awfully close to upsetting Ireland in Dublin in November 2022.

Could Farrell recall son Owen from France to tour Australia? Would he even ask?

From there it’s probably a matter of which English and Scottish players will compliment this method, and whether any Welsh players do at all. Aside from Tommy Reffell, it’s had to think of too many who might.

There’s an exciting batch of young English talent, and with another Six Nations campaign between now and then, all of them could easily mount a challenge. Hooker Theo Dan, lock/blindside flanker Ollie Chessum, centre Ollie Lawrence, excitement machine Immanuel Feyi-Waboso have all shown plenty of promise this campaign, while the likes of Ben Earl, Alex Mitchell, George Ford, George Furbank and George Martin were all very good, and very important in the win over Ireland.

Scottish locks Grant Gilchrist and Scott Cummings enjoyed strong tournaments, as did back-rows Rory Darge and Andy Christie. And wouldn’t there be a story in former Wallaby and NSW Waratah Jack Dempsey returning to Australia as a Lion?

Duhan van der Merwe’s finishing is undeniable, but full-back Blair Kinghorn might open up quite the conundrum for selectors.

With more and more Scots playing outside their borders, and Welsh and English players eschewing national selection policies to take up contracts in France or Japan, are the Lions allowed to pick players their own member unions aren’t?

Duhan Van der Merwe
Duhan van der Merwe has been nominated for the Six Nations player of the tournament award (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Could Farrell recall son Owen from France to tour Australia? Would he even ask? What about Courtney Lawes, who retired from Test duty after a colossal World Cup, but has hinted he would still be available for the great Australian voyage?

Even without Farrell junior, the fly-half question is an interesting one. Jack Crowley was outstanding for Ireland, but there is certainly an undefinable quality about Marcus Smith while George Ford drove England brilliantly in the final two matches against the best opposition.

And what of Finn Russell? Could he play as the inspirational, brilliant leader Farrell enjoyed for three years with Johnny Sexton?

The other unknown is how big a squad Farrell will assemble. For five warm-up games and one more midweek fixture in between the three Tests, you could easily see upwards of three full XVs being required.

What we do know is everything Schmidt does between now and then will be about getting the Wallabies ready for Farrell. And Farrell will spend all that time ensuring he’s got some surprises to spring on his old boss.


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Bill 125 days ago

Good to see you have a new home Brett. The buzz around the BIL is picking up especially due to tickets now on sale. A guy I work with, big AFL fan, went looking for tickets as did my 19 year old.

BTW do you know who the promoter is as they will be making a tidy sum having the cash from these pre sales invested on the short term moneymarket Cheers BillyBoy

John 125 days ago

Another in France is Jack Willis at Toulouse. He has been the form 7 in Europe this season.

Mitch 125 days ago

If Andy Farrell could bring half the Welsh squad with him, that would be handy!

On another note Brett, I heard the fatal words of ‘we play’ from Monsieur Raynal during the Wales vs Italy match which brought back some horrible, horrible memories of a certain Bledisloe Cup test at Marvel Stadium in 2022.

finn 126 days ago

15 - Keenan (Furbank & Steward)
14 - Hansen (Feyi-Waboso & Graham)
13 - Lawrence (Ringrose & Henshaw)
12 - Aki (Tompkins & Tuipulotu)
11 - van der Merwe (Dyer & Freeman)
10 - Ford (Crowley & Russell)
9 - Gibson-Park (White, van Poortvliet, & Mitchell)
8 - Earl (Doris & Fagerson)
7 - Reffell (Morgan & Underhill)
6 - Chessum (Tshiunza & Christie)
5 - McCarthy (Martin & Rowlands)
4 - Ryan (Jenkins & Itoje)
3 - O’Toole (Stuart, Furlong, & Bealham)
2 - Sheehan (Dan, Kelleher, & George)
1 - Porter (Thomas, Genge, & Rodd)

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