Andy Farrell not making promises but excited to see how Ireland go at Twickenham
Andy Farrell admits he cannot guarantee Ireland will snap their dismal recent record against England as he prepares for a testing trip to Twickenham.
The Irish head to London in the Autumn Nations Cup on Saturday having been soundly beaten on each of their three previous meetings with the World Cup finalists.
Successive Guinness Six Nations defeats to Eddie Jones’ side came either side of a 57-15 drubbing in a World Cup warm-up match last summer.
Head coach Farrell, who has made four changes to the starting XV which thumped Wales 32-9 last week, is “excited” by his team selection but unwilling to offer any assurances regarding a performance or result.
“You can’t make promises. I’ve not got a crystal ball. But what I do know is that this is a different group and it’s a different game at the weekend,” he said.
“We’ve got new combinations all over the field that are coming together and learning from these type of experiences all the time.
“They’ve trained well, prepared well and they can’t wait to get out there and show what they can do.
“How that transpires, I suppose we will have to wait and see because a game takes its own course and you’ve got to be good enough to make sure that you have a good feel of what is happening and be adaptable along the way.
“I am excited about seeing how they go.”
Farrell’s selection alterations include only a second international start for stand-off Ross Byrne in place of injured skipper Johnny Sexton.
Flanker CJ Stander, centre Bundee Aki and wing Keith Earls are the other men recalled, while James Ryan will captain the side and Jamison Gibson-Park has once again been preferred to Conor Murray at scrum-half.
Byrne, whose only previous start for his country came in last summer’s heavy loss at Twickenham, has been trusted with the number 10 jersey ahead of England-born Billy Burns.
Farrell believes 25-year-old Byrne merits an opportunity to stake a claim for regular action.
“He deserves the chance,” Farrell said. “How do you find out how they cope with the big games, the big occasions unless you give them the chance?
“We can’t just give them the chance of picking a squad and training the whole time.
“Ross has been involved in some big games for Leinster and this is his chance to go to Twickenham and be part of a great team performance.
“Everyone’s got a different temperament and Ross will be his own guy. How Ross tends to play the game is very cool, calm and collected.”
Stand-in skipper Ryan is again partnered in the second row by last week’s try-scorer Quinn Roux, behind an unchanged front row of Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher and Andrew Porter.
Caelan Doris, the stand-out performer against Wales, retains his place at number eight, with Stander coming in at blindside flanker and Peter O’Mahony switching sides to the number seven position vacated by Josh Van Der Flier.
Behind the new-look half-back partnership of Leinster duo Gibson-Park and Byrne, Aki replaces the injured Robbie Henshaw to partner Chris Farrell in midfield, with experienced winger Earls completing the back three alongside full-back Hugo Keenan and recent debutant James Lowe.
Farrell says 24-year-old Ryan was an obvious candidate for the captaincy.
“Over the last couple of years, everyone has talked about James being a potential leader for this team, a potential captain for this team,” Farrell said.
“I saw something nine months ago when we went into the Six Nations where he actually started to think, ‘While people are talking about me in this vein, maybe I should start do something about it’.
“He has 100 per cent come to the fore in his curiousness of how he wants to lead. I’ve been super impressed how he handles himself first and foremost and how he interacts and thinks about others as well.”
Lock Iain Henderson and full-back Jacob Stockdale are back among the replacements after fitness issues kept them sidelined last week.
They are joined on the bench by Burns, Murray, Rob Herring, Ed Byrne, Finlay Bealham and Will Connors, while Andrew Conway and flanker Van Der Flier drop out of the squad completely.