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Ireland 'toyed' with the idea of seven backs on the bench

Ireland coach Andy Farrell hinted that he wanted to select seven backs on his bench for the World Cup Pool B crunch match against South Africa in Paris on Saturday.

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The remark, said in jest, was in response to a question about South Africa’s famed seven forwards and one back on the bench for the State de France face-off.

Farrell on Thursday named his team for the pool decider and said he was not moved to reconsider his five-three split on the bench.

“No, not at all, never once,” the Ireland coach said.

Flyhalf Johnny Sexton will captain an Irish side that shows just a single change from the one that started in the 56-19 rout of Tonga last Saturday, with Jamison Gibson-Park returning at scrumhalf.

Farrell has not followed his opposite number Jacques Nienaber in naming a 7-1 bench in favour of the forwards to the backs.

The Ireland coach prefers a more balanced five forwards and three backs.

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Farrell said he saw only positives in how Nienaber had lined up his bench, a first in a World Cup.

* (WATCH as Ireland coach Andy Farrell gives his takes on South Africa’s seven-one bench split and if they considered something similar…)

“It’s great,” he said.

“It obviously suits them.

“They obviously know their squad and what fits for them.

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“So do we.

“I think it is great.”

Then came the quip.

“I did pose the question to our forwards coaches as to whether we should go with seven backs and one forward, but they weren’t up for that!”

And he quickly became all serious again as he turned to the game at hand.

“I think it shows they know exactly where they want to go with their game plan and we do the same with the subs we pick as well.”

He made it clear that it was important for Ireland to stick with their tried-and-trusted formula.

“There are all sorts of different permutations.

“Even with a five-three split, you can’t cover everything.

“However, you need to be adaptable, which is something we have worked hard at with our planning over the last few years.

“I suppose they have done exactly the same with the seven-one split.

“I love it, I respect it.

“I like the fact they know their squad and brought four scrumhalves over, a hooker who has not really played in that specialist position before.

“It shows they know their players and which direction they want to go.

“Hopefully they think the same about us as well.”

The Irish are on a run of 15 successive Test victories, which includes one against the Springboks last November, but Farrell said it had not all been smooth since he took over after the 2019 World Cup.

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“Our journey’s had all sorts and it prepares you for bits like this,” said Farrell.

“I suppose we’ll learn a bit more after this one as well.”

Asked whether the Boks’ seven-one bench split puts extra pressure on his players, he said he see it like that at all.

“I am pretty confident in the five forwards we have got coming off bench and the impact they’re going to have and the type of game we’re going to play when that happens.

“It doesn’t have any bearing as far as that’s concerned.

“We’ve been able to analyse them with the seven-one split, and not that much changes.

“Obviously they are fresh and they got dominance set-piece-wise in that game [a warm-up test against New Zealand] but we would back our players to do the same.”

* Meanwhile Bundee Aki said it would be “a huge honour” to win his 50th cap for Ireland on Saturday.

The 33-year-old New Zealand-born centre has been in outstanding form in Ireland’s first two games, scoring four tries and being named man of the match in the 59-16 victory over Tonga last Saturday.

“It is a huge occasion,” said Aki.

“Within myself and my family, it is a huge honour to put the jersey on 50 times, I do not take it lightly.”

Aki said when he first arrived in Ireland to play for Connacht he would never have dreamed of the landmark.

“No not a hope,” he said.

“I said to someone before to be able to get to 50 is like getting 100 caps.

“Fifty is a big number. I know how hard it is to get to a 100, I am just lucky to put it on for a 50th time.”

Farrell, who has rebounded from a shaky start as head coach to mastermind not only the winning run and Grand Slam but also a historic series win in New Zealand over the All Blacks, said he did not see the Test as a must win.

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