| 10.4°C Dublin

Farrell bubble to burst

Close

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell. Photo: Sportsfile

Andy Farrell need only pause for a moment and peruse his newsfeed for an idea of what's coming down the track in the next eight weeks.

Whether it's the remarkable travails of the Ireland football team, the positive test revealed yesterday by the Italy side due in Dublin on Saturday week or even the decision by rugby league officials to delay kick-off in yesterday's match between Hull KR and Salford by an hour to ensure all of the coronavirus tests results were in - the wacky world of professional sport in 2020 is an unpredictable mess.

For years, the Irish rugby team has spoken about the metaphorical bubble that surrounds their base at Carton House and shields them from expectation, pressure and media focus.

From today, that so-called bubble will become a prime focus for Farrell, his staff and the players who for the next eight weeks will prioritise their work for the Ireland rugby team over their families and friends.

Contact with the outside world will be limited, testing will be regular and everything they do will be under scrutiny as they look to keep the show on the road.

For staff who are were all reduced to a four-day week during the summer, it is a remarkable commitment. For the players whose salaries have been temporarily cut and part-deferred, there is a reality that things will get worse if the games do not get played.

Today, Farrell will adress his squad in person for the first time since they broke up in early March.

Back then, they were hoping to bounce back from the disappointment of their Twickenham horror show, but their home game against Italy and away trip to France were cancelled on the public safety grounds.

The players are fully aware of the risks involved, particularly after a positive case in Munster threw plans last week into disarray, but Farrell is likely to remind them of their responsibilities before they embark on a team-bonding event at Carton House.

Tadhg Furlong and Ryan Baird, who will miss the Italy match but are expected to return for the Autumn Nations Cup next month, will be invited along as the coach lays out his mission for the months ahead.

The schedule is formidable, but it is the uncertainty that will test a squad already damaged by injury and likely to be further affected by suspension when Iain Henderson learns his fate this week.

Farrell may call up an additional second-row, with Ultan Dillane the front-runner, if Henderson is ruled out but he would appear to have plenty of cover for Jordan Larmour whose dislocated shoulder cost him his place.

The Ireland bubble will extend to the National Sports Campus at Abbotstown where the team will train, but their interactions with anyone outside the group will be cut. Media will be conducted remotely, there will be no open sessions and visits from family will be limited.

For a coach who is in charge for almost a year now, it must be a deeply frustrating scenario.

Hammering

In the 11 months since he took over from Joe Schmidt, Farrell has seen his team play three times and the last outing on February 23 was a hammering at the hands of his old team.

The famine gives way to the feast and he'll have plenty of opportunity to put his stamp on things in the coming weeks.

However, the growing injury list and likelihood of disruption means the former England dual-code international will need to be adaptable in the extreme.

The run of matches creates a unique window of opportunity for Farrell.

At no point between now and the 2023 tournament in France will Ireland have so many games in such a short period of time, while the pandemic conditions mean they'll effectively be isolated from the outside world for much of the next eight weeks.

It's envisaged that they'll stay in camp for the remainder of the Six Nations, before getting a break from the camp during the week off after the trip to Paris on October 31.

Then, there's a four week window in which they take on Wales, England and Georgia before facing the equivalent ranked team from the other side of the Nations Cup draw on December 5.

On the pitch, Ireland will be determined to move on from a damaging two-year period.

Winning the 2020 Six Nations remains an achievable goal and, as such, should be the focus.

But for the coach there is a secondary aim of identifying the players capable of changing the team's physical and mental profile.

Power and athleticism will be prime factors, while aggression is a key asset for anyone hoping to be part of the Farrell set-up in the coming years. 

Above all, they'll need to keep the bubble intact. If it's breached, they'll need to be adaptable to make it through.