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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Sport
Cian Tracey and Rúaidhrí O’Connor

Andy Farrell to stick with out-of-favour stars for Six Nations

Conor Murray

With Ireland head coach Andy Farrell set to name a settled Six Nations squad this morning, former Ireland captain Rory Best says the current side are even more reliant on Johnny Sexton than they ever were during his time.

Sexton took over the leadership role when Best retired after the 2019 World Cup and the Leinster veteran will lead the squad into the upcoming campaign despite his current facial injury, with Farrell set to name him as captain.

Former Ulster and Ireland captain Rory Best. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Joey Carbery, Jack Crowley and Ross Byrne all saw action in the November series as Ireland beat South Africa, Fiji and Australia to maintain their World No 1 status, but Best believes the key man remains the 37-year-old out-half.

“I definitely don’t think that we’re less dependent, we were probably less dependent maybe six or seven years ago than we are now,” he said.

“There’s a combination of things; Joey’s injuries haven’t helped since the last World Cup while Johnny has played some of the best rugby he’s ever played, and then we’ve got a lot of young guys who aren’t getting a lot of game time, starting at 10, in big games.

Although Sexton and Tadhg Furlong are currently sidelined through injury, both will be included in an extended squad of approximately 36/37 players, with Robbie Henshaw in a race to be fit for the opener against Wales.

Conor Murray, Keith Earls and Bundee Aki are highly valued by Farrell, despite being out of favour in their respective provinces. Fresh after his man-of-the-match performance for Leinster in last weekend’s win over Gloucester, Jamie Osborne is pushing hard for inclusion, as is Munster’s in-form No 8 Gavin Coombes.

Although he kicked the match-winning penalty for Ireland against Australia in November, and allowing for his continued excellent form for Leinster, Ross Byrne may miss out, with Munster duo Joey Carbery and Jack Crowley set to provide back-up to Sexton.

Having been left out last weekend, Murray and Earls could be recalled for Munster’s trip to Toulouse on Sunday, as attack coach Mike Prendergast made it clear that the vastly-experienced Limerick pair remain a crucial part of the province’s plans.

“They’re hugely important for us, massively important for us,” Prendergast said.

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