Andy Farrell asks Billy Burns to ‘run the show’ and stake Ireland fly-half claim

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has challenged fly-half Billy Burns to “run the show” against Georgia as he searches for a long-term successor to Johnny Sexton.

Burns, who came off the bench in the win over Wales and subsequent defeat to England, has been handed a full international debut as part of nine changes for Sunday’ Autumn Nations clash.

The 26-year-old former England Under-20 international made an impressive cameo at Twickenham, having replaced the ineffectual Ross Byrne.

With veteran captain Sexton in the twilight of his career and currently injured, the number 10 jersey appears up for grabs moving forward and Farrell is eager for Ulster’s Burns to stake a claim for the role.

“We’re excited to see Billy. Obviously, he gets to run the show for the side for the first time,” said Farrell.

“He’s been in with us for a couple of weeks now and been involved off the bench, so it’s his opportunity to grab a hold of the team and the game, and run the show, so we’re excited about that.

“That builds a little bit of experience for us in that position as well.”

Centre Stuart McCloskey will make his first Ireland appearance for two years
Centre Stuart McCloskey will make his first Ireland appearance for two years

Burns will line-up behind recalled scrum-half Conor Murray in an experimental team in Dublin.

Ireland’s selection also includes rare starts for centre Stuart McCloskey and prop Finlay Bealham, while uncapped Shane Daly is expected to make his debut from the bench.

Ulster man McCloskey will win only his fourth cap having not represented his country since victory over the United States in November 2018, while Australia-born Bealham has been limited to a handful of substitute appearances since starting the same game.

Farrell is desperate to expand his selection options to prevent a future injury “crisis” and admits setbacks – such as the Six Nations loss to France and last weekend’s defeat to Eddie Jones’ World Cup winners – are part of the process.

“Growing pains is a good way of putting it, or priceless experience, you could put it that way as well,” said Farrell.

“We’ve made it pretty clear from the start that this is an opportunity for us to try and grow our pool. We’re obviously a small playing pool and with a small playing pool you’re always one or two injuries from a crisis.

“This is an opportunity for us to gain some experience in a few different areas and make sure we build for the future.

“You’re hoping, when you give opportunities, for a performance but not always does a performance and an opportunity marry up.

“The priceless experience for us is going away to two big playing nations like France and England and feeling the pressure and learning from that experience and making sure we bottle that for the future.”

Farrell suggested Sexton (hamstring) and Robbie Henshaw (groin) may be fit to feature in next week’s tournament finale, while wingers James Lowe and Andrew Conway have been left out due to “niggles”.

The continued absence of Sexton means James Ryan will lead the side for the second successive match.

Iain Henderson joins stand-in skipper Ryan in the second row to start for his country for the first time since early February following suspension and a medical problem.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell wants greater competition for places
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell wants greater competition for places

Jacob Stockdale, a try-scoring replacement against England, returns to the starting XV at full-back following a calf issue, with Hugo Keenan moving out to the right wing, and Keith Earls switching to the left flank.

Flankers Tadhg Beirne and Will Connors also start, meaning CJ Stander reverts to number eight in place of the rested Caelan Doris.

Hooker Rob Herring comes back in to the front row, in between loosehead Bealham and Andrew Porter, who keeps his tighthead spot, while McCloskey joins Chris Farrell in midfield.

Daly and fly-half Byrne are joined on the bench by Dave Heffernan, Cian Healy, John Ryan, Quinn Roux, Peter O’Mahony and Kieran Marmion.