Andy Farrell did not take long to begin the new chapter for Ireland.
A new-look team was unveiled yesterday as the national team head coach showed his hand for this Saturday’s 2020 Guinness Six Nations opener at home to Scotland and amid the two new caps and different combinations came a refreshed and repurposed outlook from a man enjoying the potential of his elevation from assistant to main man.
Even the day he chose to announce that matchday squad was ahead of the curve, Farrell bringing forward the official naming by 48 hours in a break from predecessor Joe Schmidt’s way of doing things over the previous six years.
It may seem a trivial matter but the explanation from the new boss for naming the team earlier in the week was as revealing as the selection itself.
“There is a little bit of paralysis through analysis,” Farrell said.
“You can look too much into things the whole time.
It doesn’t bother me about putting a team out there because that’s all I’m bothered about, our team. Backing ourselves.
"There’s been a real focus on us this week. We’ve been in this game long enough now to know the advantages and disadvantages and I almost feel it’s like zero. So I’d rather just get it out there and get on with the week.”
The former defence coach insisted it was not a reaction to what went before.
“Not at all. It’s just me wanting to be myself. That’s all. I’ve always thought, ‘what’s the point?’ The players always know anyway, nice and early, because we’ve got to do preparation, so let’s get it out there and get on with it. It’s not going to be a shock to anyone anyway.”
John Cooney, Peter O’Mahony, and Robbie Henshaw may beg to differ on that last comment, to name but three.
Cooney had been expected to get the nod over Conor Murray for the scrum-half spot given his exhilarating form for Ulster and his rival’s below-par performances since his return from a neck injury in November 2018.
O’Mahony had been a viable contender to succeed Rory Best as Ireland captain and Henshaw appeared to be back to his best in the midfield of a rampaging Leinster team.
All three will start Saturday’s game from the replacements bench.
Instead, Farrell has gone for experience over form in the case of Murray over Cooney and the opposite regarding his back-row selection where O’Mahony vacates the blindside flanker berth for CJ Stander, who in turn moves out of the No.8 jersey to accommodate in-form yet uncapped Leinster tyro Caelan Doris.
There are six changes in total, including Stander’s positional switch, from the side which was beaten out the gate by New Zealand in Schmidt’s final game in charge, the World Cup quarter-final in Tokyo 14 weeks ago. Natural wastage accounts for just one of those changes, Rob Herring replacing the retired Rory Best, with fly-half Johnny Sexton having assumed the captaincy from the hooker several days ago.
Rob Kearney, whose full-back spot has now gone to Jordan Larmour, was omitted from Farrell’s squad named two weeks ago, but Keith Earls and Henshaw join O’Mahony in being overlooked, replaced by Andrew Conway and Bundee Aki on the right wing and at inside centre respectively.
This remodelled Ireland side has been given a template by Farrell to epitomise “the good old traditions of what all champion Irish teams have always been about”.
Farrell’s personal experience of that came at Croke Park in 2007 when he was at inside centre as England were put to the sword 43-13 on an emotional day in Dublin.
I’ve talked about this before. I think that was the perfect performance. I’ve spoken to the lads about what I believe Irish rugby has been all about in the past.
“That has certainly influenced my mind.
“That performance... they had to win, they had to perform and to do it under that much pressure in the manner they did… I thought they were outstanding that day.”
Now it is up to this 2020 Ireland squad forged by Farrell to make their mark.
“We want to be a team that the Irish public love watching,” he said, citing a dominant and aggressive forward pack, and a “backline that facilitates that for a forward pack and also takes advantage of what the forwards are doing for them. I talked about the essentials and that’s what you have to get right.
“Your game understanding is key, your game management as far as energy is concerned; building the plan together for the opposition at the weekend is one thing, but getting the emotional state right towards the end of the week, and that’s what we’ll start building from Thursday onwards, even though I feel we’re in a decent enough place at this moment in time.”