This is the relationship between fan expectation and elite sporting performance and it’s the task facing Andy Farrell over the next 100 days as he prepares for his first Six Nations game. Andy Farrell has to make a new omelette for a sporting public and media that, despite what they say, really doesn’t like seeing broken eggs.
How many times have you heard or read that Ireland need to make big changes for the 2023 World Cup? Let’s forget for a moment that four years in professional rugby is an aeon and a changed lineup for the opening game of the 2023 World Cup from what we know now is a certainty regardless, how do Ireland get from now to then?
The omelette that Farrell has to make in this scenario is a team that moves away from one that relies heavily on Best, Sexton, Earls, Healy and Kearney just from an age perspective in the next two years and the likes of Stander, O’Mahony, Murray and Aki over the longer term.
Sure, Andy Farrell could decide to hold a press conference before the Six Nations and say that he’s decided to focus completely on France 2023 so, for the next two and half seasons, he’s going to be trying new game sheets and new players in almost every position.
Sure, it might mean finishing fourth or fifth in the Six Nations two years running, losing at home badly to the likes of England and Wales, losing to France again in Paris, losing both Summer Tour games in Australia, giving it a lash against South Africa and New Zealand at home in November 2020 and 2021 before (hopefully) getting our act together before facing the All Blacks in a three-test tour of New Zealand in 2022.
He’d have a tough sell. And rightfully so. You play this game to win, or the IRFU will find someone else who will. Farrell is not a fool; he knows that any coach fuels their experimentation with big wins or they don’t stay in their job very long.
By December, most people won’t care about World Cup 2019. Before the first game of the Six Nations, most people will only care about winning that game. Player development will come naturally when younger players make their case in the PRO14 and Champions Cup.
Farrell will go all out for Six Nations 2020. You won’t see too many departures from what we saw in Japan from a personnel perspective. When Ireland go to Australia next summer for two tests against the Wallabies and one against a Tier 2 side, you’ll see some more experimentation off the back of what we saw in the Six Nations and over the provincial season but it’ll be mostly strong selections with experienced heads taking key roles.
Farrell will go out to win our main home games in November from a selection POV – home games are where you make your money, let’s not forget – before likely experimenting heavily during Ireland’s tour of the Pacific Islands in 2021 during the Lions tour.
By 2022, I would expect the majority of Ireland’s 2023 World Cup team to be mostly in situ. Every step of the way, Ireland will be expecting to compete to win Six Nations and win home November tests because those games keep the lights on from a financial point of view.
Farrell will rebuild. He will already have guys in mind to fill jerseys. Some will already have a few caps. Others will have to stand out from the pack of young guys looking to make that step up.
The likes of Fineen Wycherley, Scott Penny, Max Deegan, Dan Goggin, Caelan Doris, Ronan Kelleher, Robert Balocoune, Craig Casey, John Hodnett, Dylan Tierney-Martin, Shane Daly, Conor O’Brien, Calvin Nash, Gavin Coombes, Peter Robb, Tom O’Toole, Keynon Knox and others will make their cases in the coming years with a bit of luck with injuries. This is the most exciting time. A new man in charge, a new regime, new chances.