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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Michael Scully

Andy Farrell explains changes v Italy as Ross Byrne and Craig Casey promoted

Andy Farrell wants the best Ireland display of this Six Nations yet despite making six changes for Saturday's clash with Italy.

Farrell has named a side without two of his main leaders in skipper Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony, and with half-backs Ross Byrne and Craig Casey starting together for the first time.

"They have earned the right to start and from what we have seen so far, it’s only a few days to the game I know, but it’s been a good start to the week," Farrell said. "Preparation has been great and yeah, they seem ready for it.

"They are doing the same thing for the last four weeks so there is a reason why they have trained so well this week, it’s because of that, probably.”

With that in mind, the Ireland boss is demanding seamless change - and a performance that tops the impressive showings against Wales and France as the visitors to Rome seek to continue their Grand Slam march.

“I don’t think there are that many changes, to be fair," Farrell said. "I mean, you look at the bench, it’s people who have come on and earned the right to get a start spot because of the performances that they’ve had.

"The lads that have come in for the first time in this competition have been with us for four weeks.

"So, the reality is, this is our third game of the competition and we expect it to be our best performance of the competition. That’s how it should be and that’s what we are aiming for.

"We have been together for a good few weeks now, so people are certainly up to speed. People wouldn’t have been selected if they weren’t in the right place.

“So, we’re not just turning things around for the sake of it, we are turning things around because we think it’s a strong side for us going forward, for this game and for the future as well.

"There’s obviously things that we need to get better at and when I say to you that this our third game and our performance should be better than the second one, so there’s a fight and a want to get to that point.

"We have full respect for Italy. But having said that, it is about us, it’s about us and our performance and making sure we improve in a few areas that we want to and get something out of this game that we’re chasing, because we obviously want to do well in this competition.

"But Italy are obviously having that win at home and it’s a big scalp, so we know the emotion that they’ve always had - but the skill that they’ve put in with that now makes them a serious threat to us.

"So we’re aware of that, and our preparation says so."

Byrne and Casey come in for his first Six Nations start, and it is Byrne's first Test start overall since the Autumn Nations Cup defeat to England in November 2020.

However the Leinster out-half was excellent off the bench in the last two games and is continuing the form he has showed throughout the season with Leinster.

“He’s been great," said Farrell. "He has earned the right to start, earned the right to run the team and transfer everything that we have seen in training to a performance that’s got authority and takes his team with him.”

Jack Crowley has got the nod as out-half cover for Byrne ahead of Joey Carbery, who was restored to the squad this week due to Sexton's groin injury. Both Sexton and Carbery will travel with the squad today.

"Ross and Jack we wanted to have a look at and keep developing," Farrell explained. "Ross had earned the right and there is a bit of feedback to Joey.

"Him coming back into camp, we get to have the chat again about his reflection about the feedback and where is he now with all that.

"He gets to back that up with the conversations and him back into the environment and lets everyone know that the competition keeps rolling on."

Jack Conan is added to the back row in place of Peter O'Mahony, with Caelan Doris moving to no 6 and Conan filling his usual role at no 8.

Bundee Aki has also got the nod over Stuart McCloskey at centre following strong cameos off the bench in the last two outings.

“Just the fight and the want has been pretty impressive," said Farrell in explanation.

"They’ve added with the performances when they’ve come off the bench but they’ve been hungry to get the chance to start in this competition and they’ve earned that right in my opinion through, Jack’s carrying has been very strong, Bundee coming on against Wales and two or three poaches in big moments, he brings a lot of energy.

"They earn the right to start and show what they’ve got this week, they’re part of the reason why we expect a good performance."

Farrell warns that Italy are a lot fitter and more cohesive than in previous campaigns, but he insists Ireland are much further along the way from the side that was ambushed in Rome in 2013.

"It’s completely different to then, you know, completely different," the 48-year-old stressed.

"The respect that we’ve got for Italy is exactly where it should be - it's very high, the development of what they’ve shown over the last 12 months has been super impressive.

"We’re in a tough game, there is a realisation of that when we look at them and analyse them. This is a proper Test match for us.

"I said a couple of weeks ago I wish I was going to watch the French game - and his is a nice trip for the fans, Rome is, it's a great place to play, a great place to go.

"I was talking to some people this morning who are heading there, and there's a lot of jealousy because it's a fantastic weekend for the fans. For us, it's nothing but business.

"We'll get to go to Rome someday without the type of pressures we'll face this weekend."

Farrell also had a word for Garry Ringrose, who will play his 50th game for Ireland on Saturday.

"It's a special moment," he commented. "It was special for us all to be involved with three lads a few weeks ago and it was a great occasion for them so there's no-one more deserving than Garry.

"He's had a few injuries in the last few years that have probably taken a few caps away from him but to be able to do it at the age he has as well as losing those games says a lot about the type of player that he is. He's in top form right now and he's only going to get better."


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