Farrell aware of expectation ahead of Six Nations resumption

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell says they can’t worry too much about the expectation from the Irish public when they return to Six Nations action this weekend.

Italy are the visitors to the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon in their refixed game (3.30).

Farrell named his team yesterday, handing debuts to Leinster’s Will Connors and Hugo Keenan, while Jamison Gibson Park and Ed Byrne could make their debuts off the bench.

Given the situation with Covid-19 Farrell says they’re happy to be able to play the game, but admits they can’t worry too much about the expectation on them to lighten the nation’s mood with a win on Saturday.

“We know what times it is, and we can all talk about the responsibilities we’ve got. We’re all desperate to lighten the mood, but we can’t put any more pressure on our shoulders.

“How we lighten the mood is to make sure we look after our own back yard and make sure the performance is fitting for what people want to see.”

Farrell left it late to announce his team to the players, and says part of the reason for that was to try out different things in training ahead of the visit of the Italians.

“We’ve got to be adaptable on the field. We’ve also got to make sure that through our training that peopler are coping with the pressures of selection. We want to see people being able to perform in training. So we like to throw a few different combinations in there to see how people adapt, not just for the here and now but I’m going to look at different combinations for the future as well.

“We’ve had a great session after the team was announced. Keeping people on their toes and making sure that we keep an eye on things pushing forward is the reason for the selection today.”

Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton are the half back pairing, and Farrell says their selection was simple.

“It’s how in sync [they are], and how they adapt their game to the rest of the back line and the game that’s in front of them. They’re generals of the game and they have the authority to play the way that we want to.”

As for what fans can expect from this Irish team on Saturday, Farrell says he’s hoping for a top notch performance right from the start.

“I hope that you see an energy in defence that is pretty ruthless. I hope you see a dynamism in our contact skills that gets the ball back. I hope you see a set piece that is aggressive, that’s going after them, and off the back off that we’re hoping to get opportunities to play on the back of that and be clinical, that’s what we’re hoping for.

“Obviously the Italians will have something to say about that. Knowing Franco [Smith, Italy head coach] and the way that he wants to play, I’ve heard they’ve had quite a few camps so the preparation has been pretty good for them so they have nothing to lose.

“I like the style of rugby that they want to play, they throw the ball around, so they’ll have a shout in how we play as well.”

Farrell admits it can be difficult to find a balance in a week like this, when players come in from their respective provinces and have to get up to speed with the Ireland set up very quickly.

“To try and come in and get a cohesiveness straight away with a different way of playing than what you’re used to day in day out, and with all different calls and getting everyone on the same page, and giving the players the tools to be able to do that and go and perform at the weekend is a task that is obviously a taxing one.

“You’ve got to make sure that it isn’t just so much pressure that they’ve got no mental capacity to think and to go and enjoy the occasion as well.

“We’ve got to make sure we get that balance right. When we’re on, the lads work unbelievably hard. In meetings and on the training field, they work in credibly hard in the down time as well, but we want to make sure that they have enough time to enjoy each other’s company on the way as well.”

Ireland team to face Italy:

15. Jacob Stockdale (Ulster) 28 caps
14. Andrew Conway (Munster) 21 caps
13. Garry Ringrose (Leinster) 29 caps
12. Bundee Aki (Connacht) 26 caps
11. Hugo Keenan (Leinster) uncapped
10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster) 91 caps Captain
9. Conor Murray (Munster) 81 caps

1. Cian Healy (Leinster) 98 caps
2. Rob Herring (Ulster) 11 caps
3. Andrew Porter (Leinster) 26 caps
4. Tadhg Beirne (Munster) 13 caps
5. James Ryan (Leinster) 26 caps
6. Caelan Doris (Leinster) 2 caps
7. Will Connors (Leinster) uncapped
8. CJ Stander (Munster) 41 caps

Replacements

16. Dave Heffernan (Connacht) 1 cap
17. Ed Byrne (Leinster) uncapped
18. Finlay Bealham (Connacht) 9 caps
19. Ultan Dillane (Connacht) 15 caps
20. Peter O’Mahony (Munster) 67 caps
21. Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster) uncapped
22. Ross Byrne (Leinster) 6 caps
23. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster) 43 caps

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