Andy Farrell aims for new-look Ireland to play at high speed in July Tests

THE WAY ANDY Farrell sees the game going, being able to play at as high a tempo as possible is crucial for Ireland in the coming years.

We have seen glimpses of what the Ireland head coach is looking for. In their most recent outing, an impressive win at home against England, Farrell’s side had real speed in their game at times.

But Farrell wants more, starting with next month’s Tests against Japan and the US. He is hoping for a fearless approach from his Irish players as they look to expand their game.

“I think over the next couple of years the way that World Rugby are trying to address all sorts of things regarding scrum, breakdown, etc., it all gears to the game being safer and speeding up,” said Farrell yesterday.

“So being able to play what’s in front of you and being able to play quick is going to be absolutely vital and it’s something that we’ve already started and something that we want to see a big improvement in.”

In that light, the 37-man squad Farrell announced yesterday for July Tests against Japan and the US makes plenty of sense.

His three scrum-halves – Craig Casey, Jamison Gibson-Park, and the uncapped Caolin Blade – all thrive in a high-tempo approach. Several of the other new faces have real pace, including wing Robert Baloucoune and back row Nick Timoney.

Farrell even spoke about speed when discussing his uncapped selection at out-half, Harry Byrne, who has been picked alongside fellow attacking-minded playmakers Joey Carbery and Billy Burns.

“He plays really quick, he flows in both sides, he’s able to play in front of him, he takes the ball to the line, his distribution, his speed of pass is very good and he’s also brave at taking people on as well,” said Farrell of Byrne. “He has an array in his attacking kicking game because his vision is very good.”

Nick Timoney has impressed for Ulster. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Ireland boss then wondered aloud whether the likes of 22-year-old Byrne, Connacht man Blade, and his other new call-ups can do it at international level.

“That’s what we’re here to find out, which is great.”

If it’s speed Farrell is after, a clash with Japan on 3 July should be ideal. Jamie Joseph’s side set out to play the fastest rugby in the sport at their home 2019 World Cup and certainly made an impression in that sense. 

The Brave Blossoms were understandably rusty in last weekend’s win over the Sunwolves in what was their first game since the World Cup, but they have players of top-level quality. Their last meeting with Ireland was, of course, that famous victory in Shizuoka that shocked Joe Schmidt’s side.

The US haven’t played since 2019 either and a seemingly serious injury for in-form captain and Dublin native AJ MacGinty last weekend while playing for Sale is very worrying. It would be a surprise if Farrell doesn’t field a fresh-faced team in that game on 10 July.

While there are 11 uncapped players in this Ireland squad, with stalwarts Johnny Sexton, Keith Earls, and Cian Healy rested, there are still plenty of senior squad regulars involved.

Carbery and Caelan Doris’ returns to the Test scene will be welcome, while the likes of Hugo Keenan, Garry Ringrose, captain James Ryan, Dave Kilcoyne, Peter O’Mahony, Jordan Larmour, and Jacob Stockdale will relish getting more international experience for differing reasons. Some could even get a late call from the Lions yet.

Farrell is keen for Ryan and a few others to develop their leadership skills with the likes of Sexton absent, while he will also be settling on a new-look back row given that CJ Stander’s time with Ireland is now over.

Gavin Coombes has impressed for Ireland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Doris will look to resume his rise at this level, while Munster man Gavin Coombes looks set to make a real impact after his superb season.

“There is an opportunity for someone to make a name for themselves and stake a claim,” said Farrell. “I think Caelan certainly started that, he had a great game coming back into some good form after being out for quite some time the other night at the RDS.

“Gavin Coombes is doing really well. We’ll see who can step up consistently well to be able to deal with the pressures of international rugby.

“I think you’ll agree we’re pretty lucky in that area when you look at Dan Leavy who has to come back in there as well, hopefully he gets fit very soon… Will Connors, who has made great strides with us over the last two years.

“And then the lads who are getting a chance, Paul Boyle who has had a great season, I think he’s going to relish coming into this type of pressured environment.

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“You look at people like Nick Timoney who has been making break after break and poach after poach, and even somebody like Scott Penny, who was excellent at the weekend, who misses out, so there’s some real good talent in and around that back row area.” 

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