IRFU taking long-term view after ‘average return’ from Andy Farrell’s first year

Head coach Andy Farrell will be given time to revive Ireland’s fortunes after the first year of his tenure was assessed as “an average return” by the IRFU.

Defeats to England and France saw the Irish finish third in the Guinness Six Nations, while they suffered another loss to Eddie Jones’ side in the current Autumn Nations Cup tournament.

Farrell, who stepped up from assistant coach to succeed Joe Schmidt after last year’s World Cup, also came in for criticism following Sunday’s unconvincing win over minnows Georgia.

IRFU performance director David Nucifora admits the team have room for improvement but stressed it is a long-term project and patience will be required during an experimental period.

“Obviously (Sunday’s) performance was disappointing, wasn’t up to speed. You heard Andy Farrell speak after the game – it wasn’t something that he or any of the coaching staff or the players were particularly satisfied with,” the Australian said.

“I suppose at the moment where we sit, the Six Nations – winning our home games, losing the two away games – you would call it an average return for us.

“It’s something we’re obviously looking to build on and improve.

  • Ireland 19-12 Scotland (Six Nations)

  • Ireland 24-14 Wales (Six Nations)

  • England 24-12 Ireland (Six Nations)

  • Ireland 50-17 Italy (Six Nations)

  • France 35-27 Ireland (Six Nations)

  • Ireland 32-9 Wales (Autumn Nations Cup)

  • England 18-7 Ireland (Autumn Nations Cup)

  • Ireland 23-10 Georgia (Autumn Nations Cup)

“We’ve used 40 players in the short number of games that we’ve had, which is an extraordinary number of players.

“But that’s what this period of time was always going to be about – looking at players we wouldn’t normally have a chance to look at, combinations we wouldn’t normally experiment with, to see how they perform.

“Even though the performance (on Sunday) was below-par, we still have a lot of confidence that this team will turn it around next week.

“For us, more importantly, it’s longer term, looking at the Six Nations. By the time we get to the end of the ’21 Six Nations, we’ll have a far better understanding of where we are going forward.”

Ireland were far from convincing during Sunday's win over Georgia
Ireland were far from convincing during Sunday's win over Georgia

Farrell has won five of his eight matches in charge and will end 2020 with Saturday’s third-place play-off against Scotland in the Autumn Nations Cup.

The Englishman has repeatedly rotated his squad selections and line-ups during his short tenure, including handing out a series of debuts.

With the coronavirus pandemic cancelling the traditional autumn Tests against sides from the southern hemisphere, Nucifora believes it was vital Farrell used the revised schedule to increase his selection pool.

“You want to see consistency and, I suppose, we can’t have our cake and eat it at the same time – using 40 players and trying to ensure that we get consistency,” said Nucifora.

“It’s an unusual opportunity that we’ve got this November to play Test matches where you feel you’ve got the ability to experiment and try things.

“That doesn’t come around too often in Test match rugby because the pressure is always on you to win.

“I suppose we’re damned if we did, and damned If we didn’t with regards to this window of time. The chopping and changing we’ve done has shown us a lot.

“You’ve always go to keep working on your player depth.”

Nucifora also confirmed the IRFU and four Irish provinces will continue to refrain from entering into contract negotiations with players amid the financial uncertainty caused by Covid-19.