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Farrell Says ‘Rolling With The Punches’ Crucial For World Cup Progress

Farrell Says ‘Rolling With The Punches’ Crucial For World Cup Progress

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is pictured during their first pitch session since their arrival in Tours, the squad's base camp during the Rugby World Cup pool stages ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

“The key to progressing in a competition like this is staying calm, keeping your feet under you, and making sure that you just roll with the punches.”

This day next week Ireland will begin their 2023 Rugby World Cup campaign in Bordeaux where Romania provide the opposition in the opening Pool B match (kick-off 3.30pm local time/2.30pm Irish time).

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A lot has happened in Irish Rugby since the last staging of the tournament, with Wigan native Andy Farrell promoted to the head coach role after the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

It took Ireland some time to adjust in the post Joe Schmidt era, which coincided with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, but Farrell’s tenure has seen the team bank some impressively consistent results, especially in the last 14 months.

He has overseen the historic first Test series win in New Zealand, followed by this year’s Grand Slam triumph, and recent victories over Italy, England and Samoa set a new national record of 13 straight wins.

Indeed, Ireland have won 25 of their last 27 Test matches stretching back to February 2021, with their only losses during that time coming against France, in Paris, and the All Blacks in Auckland.

It has been quite the journey in those last few years, with a host of new faces (33 in all) making their debuts during this World Cup cycle. Farrell’s men have faced many different challenging scenarios. He hopes these experiences can help them succeed in the coming weeks.

“The key learnings are the scenarios that we have tried to put ourselves through in the last few years,” he said, speaking at last Sunday’s squad announcement at the Shelbourne Hotel.

“Because you hear me constantly say, ‘best laid plans and all that’, it’s 100% that at a World Cup.”

Adaptability is a key skill that is often referenced by the Ireland boss. He believes the way they react in the face of adversity and in those high-pressure moments will determine how far they can progress in their quest to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.

“The ones that get flustered with all that because they’re not ready for all different types of permutations are the ones that lose the plot.

“The key to progressing in a competition like this is staying calm, keeping your feet under you, and making sure that you just roll with the punches. Be the best version of yourself no matter what happens and have a no-excuse mentality.

“We’ve tried to put ourselves in those type of positions before and we know what’s coming through.”

Ranked number one in the world coming into the tournament, Ireland know they will have a target on their backs. Nothing will come easy in a pool that features defending champions South Africa and familiar rivals Scotland, as well as Romania and a reinforced Tonga side.

Getting through to the knockout stages would more than likely mean a quarter-final meeting with either hosts France or three-time World Cup winners New Zealand. Some have described the draw as ‘lopsided’, with the world’s current top five-ranked teams all in the same section.

Farrell was asked if he thinks this will be the most open and competitive World Cup to date. “Well, I think everyone loves to say that anyway,” he responded.

“Yeah, I think when we get to this point, I think everyone’s so excited. Everyone wants it to be like that because there’s so many good teams that can compete with each other on any given day.

“And the pressures of the competition within itself, the history of all that shows that it is going to be a wide-open competition anyway, you know. So one step at a time. Let’s see if we can build some momentum.”

This Ireland coaching group has built a squad blended with youth and experience. 18 of 33 players are competing in their first senior World Cup, while it is a fourth such tournament for the likes of captain Jonathan Sexton, Keith Earls and Conor Murray.

The team has been through a development process since Japan four years ago, with Farrell acknowledging:

We probably didn’t know the total plan as in, you know, what we’ve been through and what we’re going through because you have to roll with the punches in that regard, don’t you?

“At the same time, I think the process has always been for the here and now and the medium term and the long term. You know, a lot tend to go from cycle to cycle and chop a few and carry on.

“I think the right way, for me anyway, is to grow and develop competition as we go, and then when we get to something like this (World Cup), watch and learn and let’s pick accordingly on what’s right on the team.”

Jack Crowley and Joe McCarthy are two World Cup debutants who have made serious strides in the last 12 months. They were both involved in the Emerging Ireland tour of South Africa before winning their first Test caps last November.

Both young players were mentioned by Farrell when he was asked who had covered the most ground to secure their place on the plane to France. This was before he revealed that veteran winger Earls was considering retirement just 18 months ago.

According to Farrell, he had to persuade the Munster star to keep playing, adding: “I had a conversation 18 months ago to try to stop him from retiring. He’s certainly come through the other side.

“Keith’s been outstanding over the last nine weeks as regards giving to the squad his whole self, his experience, but at the same time being as fit and excited as I’ve ever seen him.”