Andy Farrell insists the absence of Paddy Jackson from the Ireland squad will not distract the remaining players’ preparations for Saturday’s showdown with world champions New Zealand.
Out-half Jackson had been set to fly with Joe Schmidt’s Ireland party to Chicago on Monday ahead of their Soldier Field showdown with the All Blacks but was stood down at the last minute with the IRFU citing “personal reasons”.
The Ulster fly-half was that night reported by the be one of three men, including fellow provincial and Irish team-mate Stuart Olding, to have been questioned by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in relation to an incident in South Belfast on June 28.
All three were released from custody following their interviews and Ulster Rugby yesterday confirmed their players’ involvement in the investigation, protesting their innocence although Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service has still to decide whether to bring charges.
“Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been assisting the PSNI with inquiries,” an Ulster statement said. “The players deny any wrongdoing and have not been charged with any offence. As no charges have been brought forward, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Ireland assistant coach Farrell took the same line in Chicago yesterday, declining to comment on the matter as it related to 24-year-old Jackson, who started all three Tests in South Africa last June and will be available for selection for Ireland’s home Test against Canada in Dublin on November 12.
Olding, 23, also started the final Test in Port Elizabeth but losing two players from that most recent of line-ups would have no affect on team focus this week, he said.
“No, not at all. Look, the last games that we played together over in South Africa, the squad’s quite a bit different, really,” Farrell said during a press conference at the team’s city centre hotel, the Trump International Tower.
“There’s players that are back and players not here, etc. We did particularly well, I thought, to deal with that then, with the amount of injuries we had going over to South Africa and win the first game.
“I feel we’ve had a good start to the week, got a few players back and a squad that’s excited about getting out there and performing in what’s going to be an unbelievable occasion. It’s privilege to be here, isn’t it?”
Certainly Jackson’s fellow fly-half Joey Carbery will feel that way. The 21-year-old playmaker is now set to provide back-up to Leinster team-mate Johnny Sexton this weekend, his expected Test debut coming in front of an expected sell-out 61,500-plus crowd against the all-conquering All Blacks after just five senior appearances for his province.
A testing environment indeed but Farrell countered: “It’s exciting for him though, isn’t it?
“He’s played well and honestly, you find out about people coming into an environment like this, straight away. Sometimes they shrink and sometimes they grow.
“Our impression of Joey has been, ‘wow, he isn’t short of confidence’. He’s not brash at all but he ain’t short of confidence. He obviously feels he wants to put his best foot forward over the next week and let’s see how it goes because he certainly has been playing well.”
The same positive assessment was given by Farrell to another potential debutant, Leinster centre Garry Ringrose. The Ireland defence coach could have dampened excitement surrounded the exciting 21-year-old, who many observers wanted to see blooded in Test rugby last season but he was full of praise for Ringrose ahead of Schmidt’s matchday squad announcement tomorrow.
“His form is great and it’s not as though we’ve got a talent there isn’t playing to form. He’s on form so therefore he’s confident. Again, you can only watch them at the weekend and judge them how you see them day to day in training. We all know international rugby training is a lot more intense because of the quality of player. They’ve all come together and he’s thriving. You notice him every session; that means he’s comfortable and that means he’s wanted to push on forward for a place.”
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