Andy Farrell says Ireland pride themselves on performing well when it matters

Garry Ringrose in line for first appearance in this Six Nations against Scotland

Ireland are virtually certain to be presented with the Guinness Six Nations trophy this coming Saturday, the question being when and in what circumstances.

Victory over Scotland at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 4.45pm) would confirm them as champions in a befitting manner and ensure a swift trophy presentation in front of a capacity crowd. That’s the ideal scenario.

While a draw, or two bonus points, would mathematically secure the title, a losing bonus point would probably be sufficient given Ireland’s vastly superior points difference. More likely, though, it would require an Irish loss without a bonus point and an English win over France in Lyon with a bonus point to deny Ireland the title.

However, were Scotland to win their first Triple Crown since 1990 any Six Nations trophy presentation would have to be deferred until after the ensuing France-England game given Steve Borthwick’s side could still then overtake Ireland.

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A compulsory but perfunctory presentation in an empty stadium hours after the full-time whistle? There would be little fun in that.

“I love winning titles, there’s no doubt about that, but this is an occasion for us to perform when it really matters,” admitted Andy Farrell after unveiling an unchanged starting XV for this game. “We said it in the Grand Slam game last year and we was able to get over the line but the performance wasn’t exactly white hot, so that’s what you’re always chasing.

“Of course winning matters a lot. Certainly, winning Six Nations titles means an awful lot but, having said that, we pride ourselves on performing well when it matters, and I suppose that’s what we’ll judge ourselves on first.”

Whereas Calvin Nash was replaced at Twickenham without undergoing an HIA and has since completed all his return-to-play protocols, Ciaran Frawley is undergoing a 12-day turnaround and is back with Leinster after also being replaced at Twickenham following a head injury.

Hence, Harry Byrne now provides backup at outhalf/goal kicker, while Garry Ringrose is in line for his first appearance in this Six Nations after suffering a shoulder injury playing for Leinster on the eve of the tournament. As Ryan Baird is retained in a return to a 5/3 bench, Iain Henderson misses out.

Ringrose will become the 32nd Irish player in this Championship, with seven starting every game; Nash, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe, Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Joe McCarthy and Caelan Doris.

The statement of faith in this starting XV reflects the review of last week’s 23-22 defeat by England in Twickenham.

“No, I’m not worried,” said Farrell when asked if any areas of Ireland’s performance worried him. “In fact, I’d be super confident in the way we’ve reviewed the game, analysed it and got down to the bare bones of the reasons why and how it all accumulated to England having a deserved win by a point in the end. I thought we was a bit off as far as committing to absolutely everything we was going to do. I suppose that’s across the whole of the game. When that’s put in front of you and we agree on that, you tend to want another chance to put that right.”

Farrell again paid tribute to England’s performance, albeit his team “should have enough rugby knowledge” to cope with Nash being down injured when conceding a try on his wing in the fourth minute and admitted England had shown more “intent”.

“The good thing about this week is we’ve got an opportunity to put it right in front of our own fans when it really matters.”

In the kneejerk desire to find a scapegoat, apparently Conor Murray again copped some flak on social media.

“It’s certainly unfair because this is the way of the world,” ventured Farrell, suggesting that “some people get pissed off with success, longevity, people staying at the top as long as they possibly can; everybody always wanting somebody else to come in and a new fresh young rookie to light everything up.

“It takes an unbelievable amount of dedication and courage to stay at the top and keep riding with the punches, throughout a long career that’s been so successful for somebody with 120-odd caps like Conor. I can only marvel at somebody like that. In regards to mental toughness, he’s been there, seen it all and worn the badge.”

As for Scotland, Farrell said: “They’re dangerous because in my opinion they want to play rugby in the right way.” He highlighted their “good balance” of strong set-pieces, carrying, collision work and ambition to “play into space, wherever that is, as quickly as they possibly can. In your reaction to that you’ve got to be on the ball. We’ve been lucky enough over the last few years to get on the right side of victory against Scotland, but they’ve been tough, tough battles, and you’ve got to be on point to make sure you continue in that manner.”

Meanwhile, despite Antoine Frisch being called up to the French squad, Farrell said: “He is still at the front of our minds”, and added: “Now, for the rest of the season he’s obviously got an opportunity to show his worth, his improvement and therefore be in the running like everyone else.”

Next autumn New Zealand will come to the Aviva Stadium on Friday, November 8th, followed by Argentina a week later and then Fiji and Australia over the ensuing two Saturdays. So Ireland will face all the leading southern hemisphere teams as well as their Six Nations rivals in the same year for the first time ever.

“This year doesn’t get any better for Irish rugby,” said Farrell. “Look what we’ve got coming up: we’ve got this on Saturday, the world champions (South Africa) two games away from home and then the All Blacks first game in the autumn here, and we’ve got Argentina, Fiji and Australia coming over for the (IRFU’s) 150th anniversary.”

IRELAND: Hugo Keenan (Leinster); Calvin Nash (Munster), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Bundee Aki (Connacht), James Lowe (Leinster); Jack Crowley (Munster), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster); Andrew Porter (Leinster), Dan Sheehan (Leinster), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster); Joe McCarthy (Leinster), Tadhg Beirne (Munster); Peter O’Mahony (Munster, capt), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caealan Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: Rónan Kelleher (Leinster), Cian Healy (Leinster), Finlay Bealham (Connacht), Ryan Baird (Leinster), Jack Conan (Leinster), Conor Murray (Munster), Harry Byrne (Leinster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster).

SCOTLAND: Blair Kinghorn; Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Stafford McDowall, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell (co-capt), Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson; Grant Gilchrist, Scott Cummings; Andy Christie, Rory Darge (co-capt), Jack Dempsey

Replacements: Ewan Ashman, Rory Sutherland, Elliot Millar-Mills, Sam Skinner, Matt Fagerson, George Horne, Cameron Redpath, Kyle Rowe.

2024 Autumn Nations Series Fixtures:

* Friday, November 8th: Ireland v New Zealand, Aviva Stadium, 8.10pm

* Friday, November 15th: Ireland v Argentina, Aviva Stadium, 8.10pm

* Saturday, November 23rd: Ireland v Fiji, Aviva Stadium, 3.10pm

* Saturday, November 30th: Ireland v Australia, Aviva Stadium, 3.10pm

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