By Owen Kennedy
Upon reflection, it goes without saying that Joe Schmidt’s leadership over the Irish rugby team was a resounding success. Schmidt ended his era with Irish rugby with three Six Nations victories, including a Grand Slam and a Triple Crown in 2018, and a 73%–win record over 73 games. Schmidt’s departure from Irish rugby had been announced back in 2018, with Andy Farrell set to replace him as head coach. Farrell himself, father of England’s number 10 Owen Farrell, joined the Irish coaching set up in 2016 as an assistant coach. Farrell was assistant coach with England from 2011 to 2015 as well as defence coach for the 2013 series-winning British & Irish Lions tour to Australia. Previous to joining the England set-up, he coached Aviva Premiership side Saracens. As a dual code player, he played rugby league for Wigan, earning 370 caps, with England, he amassed 11 caps, including 3 World Cup appearances in 2007, and with Great Britain, he picked up 34 caps, before switching to union and joining Saracens.
Farrell’s choices for the Irish squad have been hit hard already with injuries sustained by the Connacht squad, with Quinn Roux, Kieran Marmion, Tom Farrell, Conor Fitzgerald, Sean O’Brien and now Ultan Dillane all out, after Dillane suffered a rib injury following the game against Toulouse. These injuries have dealt a huge blow to the hand Farrell can play in the Six Nations, but none of these injuries are set to hit Farrell and the Irish squad as hard as Joey Carberry, who is set to miss the entirety of the tournament after he damaged ligaments in his wrist.
Farrell is most likely to start off his first few games, Scotland, Wales and England (in that order), following a similar strategy to what Schmidt had established. He may experiment against Scotland and Wales, but the team will need to work with the strategies that played to their strengths against England, so it’s highly likely Farrell will stick to a Schmidt-style strategy for that game. Against Italy, he’s bound to experiment a lot and shake the team up, seeing what he can play with. Depending on how our first three games go, he may play experimentally against France too, which will conclude our Six Nations campaign.
In conclusion, Farrell has some very big shoes to fill. His previous experience with England and Saracens will come in handy as he steers his fledgling career as head coach, faced with scepticism from critics and fans alike. However, I’m confident he’ll start his Six Nations campaign well, despite the probability he may play safe by using previous Schmidt-style strategies.