Posting at the top table won’t lessen Farrell’s hunger to learn

This is the time Andy Farrell has been planning for. The moment that has been in his mind since he was a teenager at the outset of a glittering professional rugby life.

Posting at the top table won’t lessen Farrell’s hunger to learn

This is the time Andy Farrell has been planning for. The moment that has been in his mind since he was a teenager at the outset of a glittering professional rugby life.

As the 2020 Six Nations approaches, with round one kicking off on Saturday, February 1, the rugby league playing legend has finally arrived at the high table of Test-match rugby union coaching as he prepares to lead Ireland for the first time as head coach.

There can be no guarantees, of course. Sport, as the late Munster hero Anthony Foley would frequently point out, has no respect for experience, reputation or even the most recent performance.

But if Farrell, 44, gets as much out of the Ireland players over the next World Cup cycle as he has put into getting himself ready for this role in the last 25 years, then this could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

What the Lancastrian did promise as he faced the media last Monday when his maiden training camp, a 24-hour “mid-season stocktake”, concluded at the IRFU’s sparkling new High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus in west Dublin, was that he will only do the job by staying true to himself.

After serving under his predecessor Joe Schmidt for three years as defence coach, Farrell, who brought together 45 players for his first squad selection, is ready to do things his way.

“I can only be myself,” he said. “I want to be upfront with you guys and the players. I’m not clever enough to lie to myself.

"I want to be honest and be upfront. I can only be myself. As far as how I’m going to run this gig. I’ve been in professional sport for most of my life, from 16 years of age.

"I’ve always wanted to be a coach, no matter what code that would be in. I’ve had some unbelievable experiences along the way.

"Some fantastic, innovative coaches. Some brilliant man managers, etc, and I take all that into stock.

"I’ve always wanted to be a coach, probably from when I was captain at a young age because I knew my point of difference would have been galvanising the team.

“So, I always wrote stuff down, from being 19 years of age, about coaching so I’ve always wanted to get to that stage.

“That’s the first sting but when you put everything together from all these coaches that you’ve had and I’ve had plenty over time.

"You’ve also got to put your Andy Farrell stamp into that and that’s my personality and that’s how I am.

"That’s how I see things evolving and that’s what I want to see come through. I want to be myself, 100%.”

Since swapping the 13-man league code for union, as a player in 2005, the former Wigan RL superstar has taken his fair share of knocks, not least as part of Stuart Lancaster’s England staff presiding over a disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign on home soil.

Farrell, like Lancaster at Leinster, has rebuilt his career in Ireland and the IRFU have now made a further investment in the Englishman to lead the national team into the post-Schmidt era.

Being himself and doing things his way does not mean Farrell will stop canvassing opinion or listening to counsel, from a variety of sources.

I speak to a hell of a lot of people. Honestly, it’s a passion of mine. I love coaching.

"In fact, I had a career that I can’t complain about and been to most places... I would spend my time speaking as many people as I possibly can, not just in coaching — in business and in life.

"People that I meet in the gym and try and get my learnings from that. Every book I would read, every podcast I would listen to; it’s all about learning and getting better for this profession.

"I was 28 when I came over from rugby league and I had a long enough career from 16. I’m nearly 45 now, you know?”

Farrell has a Six Nations championship to negotiate before his next birthday, Scotland visiting Dublin on February 1.

“That’s international rugby, we all know that before we put our foot forward for the gig. You’re dealt with those cards and you make the most out of them. That has to be in your planning.

"I suppose the key for us is, yes, we want to progress and add to our game as everyone would want to do every season anyway.

"But we’ve got to make sure we take those steps without trying to push forward too fast and end up standing for nothing, just add as we go and hopefully we get a good response to that.”

Meanwhile Ireland U20 Head Coach Noel McNamara has named an extended 24-player squad for tomorrow’s game against Munster Development at Musgrave Park (1pm).

Leinster Academy tighthead Thomas Clarkson, who started all five of Ireland’s games during their Grand Slam-winning Six Nations campaign last season, captains the side.

Clarkson is one of six players from last year’s squad involved again for the 2020 season, with his Leinster Academy team-mate Brian Deeny and Munster flanker Thomas Ahern named to start, while John McKee, Charlie Ward and Max O’Reilly are among the replacements.

Connacht full-back Oran McNulty is joined in the back three by Ethan McIlroy, who last week made his senior Ulster debut in the Guinness PRO14 inter-pro defeat to Leinster, and Clontarf winger Andrew Smith, with UCC’s Harry O’Riordan and Ulster Academy centre Hayden Hyde in midfield.

Cork Constitution out-half Jack Crowley, who recently won the Energia All-Ireland League December Try of the Month award, partners Lewis Finlay in the half-backs, while Marcus Hannan, Tom Stewart and Clarkson make up the front row.

Deeny and Ahern supply experience in the engine room with UCD’s Sean O’Brien, Mark Hernan and Joshua Dunne of Galwegians making up the back row.

McNamara said: “It will be nice to get down to Cork and for the lads to get a feel for what it’s going to be like.

"We’re really looking forward to seeing where the benchmark is as much as anything else and it’s an opportunity for us then to build some momentum and cohesion which is really important.

"The result won’t be something we’ll be focusing on at this stage, as we’ll be looking at whether we can achieve that cohesion while also using the game to identify the areas we are doing well in and then the areas we need to place a little bit more attention on in the coming weeks.”

Ireland open their Under-20 Six Nations campaign against Scotland at Musgrave Park on Friday, January 31 (7.15pm).

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