Irish coach still believes Ireland can take the title
Ireland's Six Nations fate is in their own hands and, while he’s missing a couple of key men for the upcoming games against Italy and France, head coach Andy Farrell says the team are determined to win the competition.
After an eight-month pause, Ireland are fourth in the table on nine points with a game in hand over England and France who are both on 13 and Scotland on 10.
Given England’s remaining match is against the Italians in Rome, Ireland will probably need two bonus-point wins to complete the job.
Defeat to the English at Twickenham in February put a dent in Ireland’s ambitions, but they remain firmly in the hunt and the coach is determined that his team give themselves as good a chance as possible.Rescheduled
“We want to win them obviously,” he said of the rescheduled games against Italy in Dublin next Saturday and France in Paris a week later.
“We’re one of the teams that’s lucky enough to still be in the hunt so why wouldn’t we go and hunt it?
“That’s how the whole group feels. Obviously it’s a tough old task going forward because we know what we probably will need but we’ll need to give it a go.
“I think we’re the only team that can look after their own destiny really. Ten points would seal it for us. I don’t want to be disrespectful to Italy or France. All I want to do is make sure that we focus on ourselves and put our best foot forward.”
With Tadhg Furlong, Keith Earls, Iain Henderson, Dave Kilcoyne, Jordan Larmour and Max Deegan all unavailable from the initial squad and Devin Toner and John Cooney not selected, there will be a changed look to the team that takes on the Italians next weekend.
Farrell names his team on Tuesday and has a number of concerns.
Johnny Sexton, Ronan Kelleher and Andrew Porter will step up their training in what Farrell described as a “decent old session”, while Peter O’Mahony and Chris Farrell will link up with the squad tomorrow after their period in isolation due to being close contacts of their Munster team-mate who tested positive for coronavirus last week.
That puts them on the back foot when it comes to selection and, while the coach says he has an open mind when it comes to the team, much will depend on how the players who train today perform.
“We’re quite prepared to see how a newish squad comes together and unfolds and a couple of boys will fit back in with us on Sunday, train on Monday and we’ll see how they fall back in as well,” Farrell said.
Larmour’s injury means full-back is the most open position and, while the widespread expectation is that Hugo Keenan will start, Farrell warned that he and Shane Daly have work to do to.
Farrell said there are other options for the No 15 slot, with Jacob Stockdale playing there regularly for Ulster and Andrew Conway and Robbie Henshaw also options.
“So far, they’ve had two days in camp,” he said of Keenan and Daly. “There’s a bit of water that needs to go under the bridge before we make that assessment. We’ve tried in the last couple of days to get some organisation in the team so we’ve got some cohesion for a full session tomorrow.
“We’ll see how that goes, but from what I’ve seen and from what I know they are stellar students of the game. That’s 100pc for sure. They’re clever boys that seem to be able to pick things up pretty quickly.
“There’s other options as well. We have a few injuries in certain positions, that’s well documented.
“Sometimes there’s an element of ‘what would be our best team?’ We’ll make sure we train with different players and do what suits the team for the Italy game.”
Unless he redeploys Henshaw for the first time since his disastrous outing against England in 2018, Keenan still looks the favourite with Conway and Stockdale on the wing.
Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki are the favourites to start at centre, with Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray back at half-back.
Up front, Ronan Kelleher is pushing hard for inclusion at hooker, while Quinn Roux’s set-piece nous could win him the battle against Tadhg Beirne to partner James Ryan.
O’Mahony’s late arrival could see Farrell revert to the back-row that started against Scotland, with CJ Stander at No 6, Josh van der Flier at 7 and Caelan Doris at 8.