Improvise, adapt, overcome - how Andy Farrell prepares Ireland for the ‘what ifs’

Morning Sports Briefing: why Johnny Sexton has turned his phone off; the problem with boozed-up buffoonery on ‘St Patty’s Day’

Do you remember Clint Eastwood’s character in Heartbreak Ridge, the US Marine? And the advice he gave his men? “Improvise, adapt, overcome.” Well, Malachy Clerkin reckons there’s a bit of the Sergeant Thomas Highway about Andy Farrell, the coach having produced a team that has improvised, adapted and overcome every problem thrown at them in their Six Nations campaign so far.

Malachy hears Peter O’Mahony and Robbie Henshaw explain how Farrell has prepared them for a range of scenarios, the “what ifs,” as Henshaw describes them, although losing two hookers against Scotland wasn’t foreseen. They still overcame that challenge, though.

Johnny Sexton, meanwhile, has had to turn his phone off this week, having been inundated with ticket requests. His sole focus then, as Gerry Thornley heard him discuss, is on finishing his Six Nations career with a Grand Slam-sealing victory over England. Gerry also takes a shot at predicting the team Farrell will pick for Saturday, the number of injury doubts making that a tricky exercise.

Brian O’Connor brings all the news from Cheltenham, including Willie Mullins’ Energumene strolling to his second Champion Chase in a row, while Nathan Johns writes about a memorable day for 18-year-old Waterford jockey John Gleeson who needed permission to skip school this week to ride at the festival. And he promptly won Wednesday’s Champion Bumper aboard A Dream to Share.


Elsewhere, Dave Hannigan reports with some relief in his America at Large column that so far, in the lead up to “St Patty’s Day”, he’s only seen one “Drink me, I’m Irish” t-shirt in the wild. He still has a sense of dread, though, that he’ll witness yet more “boozed-up buffoonery”, and wishes the day could be used to showcase the finer sides of Irish life, like hurling and Gaelic football.

Telly choice: It’s day three of the Cheltenham Festival (Virgin Media One, 1pm-4.30), and with six of the nine runners in the Ryanair Chase, Ireland has a more than reasonable chance of landing the big one. There’s plenty of Europa League action to watch too, among the games Real Betis v Manchester United (BT Sport 1, kick-off 5.45) and Arsenal v Sporting Lisbon (kick-off 8.0).

Keep an eye on: Today’s Irish team announcement for that tussle with England on Saturday, with Andy Farrell due to name his XV around 3.30 this afternoon.