Farrell 'fears' dangerous Italy
SPOTLIGHT: Ireland coach Andy Farrell said he refused to take bottom-of-the-table Italy lightly and considered next week’s Six Nations game “a dangerous match.”
Farrell’s men head to Rome on February 27 with just the hosts below them in the standings after losing their opening two games in the tournament for the first time.
They garnered two losing bonus points in the 16-21 loss to Wales and the 13-15 loss to title favourites France.
The Azzurri are pointless after losing to France (10-50) and England, although they showed some spark in the 18-41 loss at Twickenham.
Farrell said Ireland had to be in the right frame of mind or they risked suffering what would be only their second defeat in the Six Nations to Italy, after the first in Rome in 2013.
“It is dangerous,” Farrell said.
“We’ve been analysing for the last couple of weeks and if you just looked at the scorelines you’d say that everything should be rosy, but we know the facts.
“We’ve watched the Italian side, they’re playing some good rugby as they proved last week at Twickenham. They caused all sorts of trouble.”
Farrell said history taught the dangers of experimenting with new tactics against Italy.
“If you don’t respect the game in general, you can come unstuck,” he said.
“A couple of times, teams have tried to approach the game a little differently and have really come unstuck against Italy and that’s in the recent past as well.”
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Some commentators have been urging Farrell to blood new talent at the Stadio Olimpico.
He said some of the names suggested such as Leinster flyhalf Harry Byrne need more playing time at provincial level.
Intriguingly, the long-term battle for succession to talismanic Johnny Sexton could pit brother against brother – 21-year-old Harry and older sibling Ross.
Ross has largely been seen as below par when given a chance at Test level.
Outsiders will be able to compare notes on Friday when Harry will start at flyhalf – Ross at centre – in Leinster’s Pro 14 clash with Ospreys.
“We can’t throw any kid – not just Harry – in [to Test rugby] by just guessing,” said Farrell.
“They’ve got to earn the right to get into this environment.”
He said the COVID-19 pandemic had made his task more difficult.
“It’s been stop-start and it’s hard for a kid to get continuity and keep getting selected,” he added.
One area of play that has improved since last year has been the set-piece, especially the line-out, where they dominated Wales and held their own against les Bleus.
The appointment of former Ireland captain and lock Paul O’Connell as forwards coach in January seems to have paid dividends.
“I think he’s been great,” said Farrell. “Anyone with Paul’s experience and general knowledge of performance is going to add to any environment, but I’ve been really impressed.”