Andy Farrell insisted continuity in Ireland team selection would not come at the expense of creativity as he kept changes to a minimum for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations second-round visit of Wales to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.
Head coach Farrell on Tuesday made just two changes from the side which edged past Scotland 19-12 at home last Saturday, with centre Robbie Henshaw and flanker Peter O’Mahony coming in for injured duo Garry Ringrose and Caelan Doris. Both Henshaw and O’Mahony finished the game having been replacements and their places on the bench were handed to Keith Earls and potential debutant Max Deegan.
Despite an opening-day victory, Ireland’s one-try performance against a side they had dominated four months ago at the World Cup in a 27-3 win in Yokohama, drew plenty of criticism from some media pundits who had wanted a more cohesive approach from a side under new management following the departure of Joe Schmidt.
Yet the new boss believes his existing players just need to be better decision-makers than they were against the Scots.
"I thought we just need to see the opportunities,” Farrell said after naming his team on Tuesday.
I think if we win a few more collisions and are a bit more accurate winning the race to the breakdown, I think the creative side will come a little bit more. Sometimes I thought we were too creative, decision-making was a little too expansive sometimes but that's all a work in progress.
"Those type of things do take time, I'm sure you saw little bits of glimpses of parts of it but we'll get better."
Farrell added that collective confidence remained high in the Ireland squad despite the muted response to victory in his first game at the helm.
"It's actually great, believe it or not. It is actually great because what a position to be in. We've won our first game at home, some good and some fix-ups.
“Scotland, I don't think people are giving them the credit they deserve. I've not seen Scotland play like that for some time. They were ferocious in all sorts of contact within the game, I thought their set-piece was absolutely excellent.
"They'll be deeply disappointed, I would have thought because they threw everything at us in that game. So they have a lot to do with it and we've got to manage that type of situation better as well. We will do this weekend."
Of his selection of Henshaw and O’Mahony, arising from Ringrose needing surgery on a finger and last week’s debutant Doris being given extra time to recover from a concussion he received in the eighth minute, Farrell said of the incoming men: “They did well when they came in off the bench and it had been a tough call in terms of selection for Scotland. It was fine margins. They had been outstanding all week and that rolled over into the performance.”
While Doris, 21, was stood down owing in a part to a previous episode this season playing for Leinster, replacement loosehead prop Dave Kilcoyne did retain his spot on the bench despite also failing a Head Injury Assessment early in the second half last Saturday. The Munster prop will still have to complete his return to play protocols and Farrell said: “Dave is going through HIA. He is fine at this moment in time and he has a couple of days to get through and we have Jack McGrath on stand-by.
“It’s not tricky. We train anyway. Dave is part of the reviews and walk-throughs. He’s in a good place to come off the bench.”
Deegan’s promotion to Test rugby as the back-row cover came with a healthy endorsement from the Ireland head coach.
“He’s got all the attributes of a great back-rower. You go into the unknown a little bit with international rugby but we feel he is ready. His ball-playing ability, his spatial awareness coming on to the ball and using his footwork. He’s got nice soft hands at the same time. He’s got good leg drive in his carry. He’s a great all-round footballer and we think he will add a dimension to us, especially in attack off the bench.”
IRELAND (to play Wales): J Larmour (St Mary’s College/Leinster); A Conway (Garryowen/Munster), R Henshaw (Buccaneers/Leinster), B Aki (Galwegians/Connacht), J Stockdale (Lurgan/Ulster); J Sexton (St Mary’s College/Leinster) - captain, C Murray (Garryowen/Munster); C Healy (Clontarf/Leinster), R Herring (Ballynahinch/Ulster), T Furlong (Clontarf/Leinster); I Henderson (Academy/Ulster), J Ryan (UCD/Leinster); P O’Mahony (Cork Constitution/Munster), J van der Flier (UCD/Leinster), CJ Stander (Shannon/Munster).
Replacements: R Kelleher (Lansdowne/Leinster), D Kilcoyne (UL Bohemians/Munster), A Porter (UCD/Leinster), D Toner (Lansdowne/Leinster), M Deegan (Lansdowne/Leinster), J Cooney (Terenure College/Ulster), R Byrne (UCD/Leinster), K Earls (Young Munster/Munster).