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Farrell gets IRFU backing despite average results

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Ireland coach Andy Farrell’s position is not under threat despite the team’s lacklustre results. AFP

Farrell gets IRFU backing despite average results

Andy Farrell’s position as Ireland head coach is not under threat despite results in his first year in charge being an “average return”, said Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) performance director David Nucifora.

The 45-year-old Englishman has won five of his eight Tests since he moved up from assistant coach to replace Joe Schmidt who stepped down after last year’s World Cup.

However, November 29’s lacklustre win over Georgia following away defeats twice to England and to France has sparked criticism from former playing greats like Shane Horgan.

Certainly the consistency and discipline as well as the ability to see out the 80 minutes which were features of Schmidt’s tenure have been lacking under the more relaxed Farrell.

“Obviously [November 29’s] performance [against Georgia] was disappointing, wasn’t up to speed,” said Nucifora at a press conference on November 30.

“I suppose at the moment where we sit, the Six Nations – winning our home games, losing the two away games – you would call it an average return for us.”

In spite of this, Nucifora, who took up his post a year after Schmidt assumed the head coach role, said the IRFU were content they had the right coaching team in place.

“Yeah, absolutely,” said the 58-year-old Australian about Farrell and his coaching team being the right men for the job.

“They’re an experienced coaching team.

“They’ve been in or around international rugby for many years, either with Ireland or with England or with the [British and Irish] Lions.

“Once they get some stability and continuity going with the team, then obviously we’ll start to see progress.”

Farrell has used 40 players in the Autumn Nations Cup thus far.

Among them has been Leinster’s New Zealand-born duo, scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and wing James Lowe.

Both qualified under the old much-criticised three-year residency rule which has now been extended to five years.

England coach Eddie Jones dryly remarked before the two sides met earlier this month that Farrell’s Ireland resembled the United Nations.

South African-born duo CJ Stander and Quinn Roux as well as New Zealander Bundee Aki lined up along with Lowe and Gibson-Park in the starting XV.

‘Expand the game’

Nucifora acknowledges that that avenue of bolstering the playing depth has all but been closed off.

“Going forward, you wouldn’t anticipate that will be something that will be as common around the world.

“We’re not the only ones that fall into that category whilst they were the rules.

“You’d think it’s going to be more unlikely that players would qualify after serving five-year qualification going forward.”

Nucifora says having such a small playing pool compared to England and France, he and the IRFU will have to explore other areas to unearth untapped talent to help Farrell.

The rugby team is selected from both Northern Ireland as well as the Republic and, with a combined population of under seven million, rugby faces stiff competition from football and Gaelic Games.

“We need to look into the non-established areas of rugby around the country, where there are many other athletes that are able to play the game . . . to be able to give them access to the game,” he said.

“The utilisation of sevens rugby to get into schools that don’t play rugby as a fixed sport is an opportunity for us to expand the game.

“That’s an obvious way for players who aren’t familiar with the 15-a-side game to join the game.”

Nucifora said they were always on the lookout for talent amongst those who qualified through their Irish ancestry.

England-born fly-half Billy Burns is an example. He has was one of standout player in the Autumn Nations Cup qualifier through an Irish grandfather.

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