Andy Farrell believes naming World Cup squad has brought Ireland closer together
Andy Farrell has said Ireland naming their World Cup squad six days ahead of plans has handed Joe Schmidt’s men a boost for the Japan tournament.
Brian O’Driscoll claimed it “beggars belief” that Ireland omitted reliable lock Devin Toner from their final 31-man World Cup squad, with Jean Kleyn selected instead.
Assistant coach Farrell insisted Ireland had been able to shake off the criticism and bond closer together, with the Pool A opener against Scotland fast approaching on September 22.
Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls will make their first starts of the pre-season in Ireland’s final World Cup warm-up – Saturday’s clash with Wales in Dublin.
“Well we’re in a bubble in our camp, but naming the group, it’s brought us closer together, why, because the team’s been picked and the wait is over,” said Farrell.
“So the cohesion throughout the group is one of a much higher standard.
“People are getting first starts and trying to get different combinations going.
“Yes we’re down to 31 but we’re still in a lot of competition.
“These guys get the chance to put their best foot forward for the World Cup now.
“They (Sexton, Henshaw and Earls) are all raring to go, they have been held back for at least a week or two, and can’t wait to get going this weekend.
“We’re after a performance we’re proud of, with it being Rory Best and Joe Schmidt’s last games at the Aviva.
“But we’ve also got to take the right mental attitude moving forward into Japan.”
Talisman fly-half Sexton finally has the chance to prove his World Cup fitness this weekend, having battled thumb and leg niggles all summer.
The 34-year-old has not tasted Test action since Ireland’s 25-7 loss to Wales in the Six Nations in March that sealed the Grand Slam for Warren Gatland’s men.
Sexton will be back in harness with his Lions half-back partner Conor Murray for Ireland’s final World Cup warm-up, with their Pool A opener against Scotland fast approaching on September 22.
Schmidt has named a potent starting XV for his last game in Dublin as Ireland head coach, the 53-year-old relinquishing his post after the Japanese World Cup adventure.
Jack Conan has another chance to impress in the back-row and is surely pushing hard for a starting berth against Scotland.
Captain Rory Best will play his final game at the Aviva Stadium, with the 37-year-old retiring after the World Cup.
Evergreen hooker Best will win his 120th cap in Dublin on Saturday, before leading Ireland to Japan.
The Ulster stalwart admitted relief at having his place nailed down for the World Cup.
“You don’t feel that sword’s hanging over your head now,” said Best, admitting Ireland had plenty of soul searching to do after their record 57-15 loss against England at Twickenham a fortnight ago.
“We’re certainly ready to play this Saturday and that’s the first thing for us, to get a performance this Saturday.
“It’s the last game of the calendar year, the last game before we go.
“We’re looking forward to putting in a performance, a few not bad players in for their first game of the season.
“We know that we’re never as good as people say we are and the flip side is we’re never as bad as people say we are.
“Certainly a week ago on Monday past there, we were more disappointed than anyone.
“I can tell you the biggest disappointment was within the team room at Carton House.
“We just made sure we got a few things addressed that weren’t going the way we wanted them to, and to give ourselves a few things we can hang our hat on.
“And we’ll see now whether we can take ownership of that at the World Cup.”
IRELAND TEAM TO FACE WALES IN DUBLIN ON SATURDAY: R Kearney, J Larmour, R Henshaw (all Leinster), B Aki (Connacht), K Earls (Munster), J Sexton (Leinster), C Murray (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster, capt), T Furlong, James Ryan (both Leinster), J Kleyn (Munster), CJ Stander (Munster), J Van Der Flier, J Conan (both Leinster). Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster), D Kilcoyne (Munster), A Porter (Leinster), I Henderson (Ulster), R Ruddock, L McGrath (both Leinster), J Carty (Connacht), G Ringrose (Leinster).