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Strong start needed

Big win over Scotland can get Farrell era up and running

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OPENER: Andy Farrell has his first game in charge of Ireland today

OPENER: Andy Farrell has his first game in charge of Ireland today

SPORTSFILE

OPENER: Andy Farrell has his first game in charge of Ireland today

We don't know if local politics has piqued Andy Farrell's interest since he moved to Ireland in 2016 but if he tuned into the election debates he might be able to take something from the two front-runners.

Just as Micheál Martin would like the electorate to forget he was a cabinet minister during the crash and Leo Varadkar wants a new mandate having been in power for much of the last decade, Farrell is a new face with strong connections to the old regime.

All week, there has been talk of renewal and of a fresh start, but after a disastrous 2019 there is a need for results to get some momentum and to gain public backing.

He has stuck with the same old faces in the hope their confidence has been restored and their experience will supply a strong start.

Each of his predecessors came a cropper at the World Cup, but Ireland's record in this tournament is excellent. Since 2000, Ireland have only finished in the bottom half twice in 2008 and 2013. On both occasions, the coach lost his job.

So, for all that there is a demand for Farrell to find a new way of playing and move on from the World Cup there is also a need for him to get off to a winning start.

He needs to put distance between himself and the old regime. After all, he was a part of the team that came a cropper in Japan, while he also needs the ranking points to ensure his team is well placed in November's World Cup draw.

Home wins against Scotland and Wales in the next seven days would be the perfect tonic and afford him the kind of breathing space he needs.

He has talked a good game, his players have enthused about his methods and there is a general sense of a more relaxed vibe around a camp that grew increasingly tense during the old regime. Yet, none of that will matter if they somehow contrive to lose to the Scots this evening.

Last year hangs over this squad.

Of the starting XV, only Caelan Doris missed the World Cup. Thirteen of them survive from the team that started the opening game.

Despite being Ireland's best attackers in Japan, Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway had lost their places by the time they played New Zealand. Bundee Aki was suspended.

The sameness is undeniable, but at least the reshaped back three can offer a counter-attacking threat while debutant Doris has the potential to reshape the Irish back-row.

It would be unrealistic to expect too much, too soon.

Ireland's home record under Joe Schmidt was excellent. Last year's opening day defeat to England was his only Six Nations loss. Farrell can't afford such a slow start.

He wants his team to play with what he described as old-fashioned, Irish values and that will be based on aggression and relentless energy.

Scotland couldn't live with that in Yokohama where Ireland were ruthlessly efficient. To do that again, they'll need a clean supply of ball out of touch and the Ulster brains trust of Rob Herring and Iain Henderson need to up their game.

It remains to be seen how Finn Russell's absence affects Scotland. They may be galvanised by his actions and united behind their under-pressure coach or they may just fold. If Ireland get good ball, they have the backs to hurt them with the ball.

Anything less than a win brings Farrell's honeymoon to a shuddering halt and puts his players under further scrutiny after Japan. By the time the polls close next Saturday night, Farrell's first two games against Scotland and Wales will be over.

A winning start would see his links to the past fade into the background. If his team play to their potential, he'll be up and running.

  • SIX NATIONS, IRELAND v SCOTLAND, VIRGIN MEDIA 1/ITV (KO 4.45)