Ireland’s team selection against Samoa gives pointers towards World Cup squad

Andy Farrell makes a dozen changes to the Ireland starting team from last week’s win over England

Andy Farrell has rightly been hailed for being a superb man manager as well as being a good selector and visionary coach, but he can also be ruthless. He has to be. As a head coach, it goes with the territory.

So it was that he unexpectedly cut five players from the wider 42-man training squad last week, four days ahead of the England game, and so it is that having added Jeremy Loughman, the Ireland coach will be informing five more players that they will miss out on the final World Cup squad between now and Monday’s lunchtime announcement.

“I’m not saying it’s easy but it’s my job,” he admitted to the travelling media in Biarritz on the eve of Ireland’s final warm-up game against Samoa in Bayonne’s Stade Jean Dauger this Saturday (kick-off 8.45pm local time/7.45pm Irish).

“I care deeply and if I didn’t I wouldn’t be sat here. But at the end of the day that’s the job I’ve been given and it’s like every single decision that I make, it doesn’t please everyone but the balance that I always try to come to, is what is the right thing for the team.


“That’s all that matters and that’s how I try to channel it, really. So therefore you can just concentrate on the job in hand rather than worrying about that type of stuff too much.”

Farrell was speaking after making a dozen changes to the Ireland starting XV against Samoa from last week’s win over England. It is a selection which appears to contain a host of pointers towards Ireland’s probable 33-man World Cup squad and perhaps even the line-up for the second pool game against Tonga.

Eight players from the starting XV in the 33-17 win over Italy are restored, while Conor Murray starts his first warm-up game, as do the front-row of Cian Healy, Tom Stewart and Finlay Bealham.

Farrell maintained there were still two or three places potentially up for grabs, and it would seem that Jimmy O’Brien and Ryan Baird, to name two, have been given the opportunity to nail down places, but also need to grasp them.

McCloskey and Earls look even more probable now, with the latter starting at left wing in his third warm-up game strongly indicating he is ahead of Jacob Stockdale, who hasn’t been picked since his one outing against Italy.

Also playing in his third warm-up game, Crowley looks nailed on ahead of Ciaran Frawley given the latter has been restricted to just that second-half performance off the bench against Italy.

Tom Stewart would probably need to shoot the lights out unless Ronan Kelleher’s hamstring twinge is worse than is being revealed, although the investment in him, as a potential late call-up at least, is understandable given the injury clouds over Sheehan and Kelleher.

That said, Farrell seemed quite chipper about Sheehan’s prospects of overcoming the strained foot ligament he suffered in the first-half against England.

“He’s great and he’s a fine specimen of a man so hopefully he continues to heal quickly.”

Having trained on Wednesday morning before the temperatures hit 40 degrees in the afternoon, the squad had a day off in Biarritz yesterday, as the heat eased and the clouds arrived, although it’s still likely to be in the mid-20s come kick-off, with changeable forecasts regarding some rain.

“This is a great week for us, as in mimicking the weeks that could be coming up for us in all sorts of different ways. Between the Romania game to the Tonga game the heat could still be around which it certainly is this week.

“There’s plenty of distractions which there’s definitely going to be in the World Cup. Walking around on a day off you feel like you’re on holiday, which isn’t how you prepare for a Test match.

“There’s plenty of distractions. The same referee,” added Farrell in reference to Wayne Barnes, who will referee both the Samoan and Tongan games, “and a night match which is later than normal for us. So, this is a brilliant week to see how we cope with all those bits.”

While Sheehan, Jack Conan and Dave Kilcoyne have continued rehabbing at home, Kelleher, Johnny Sexton and James Lowe didn’t train on Wednesday.

“For whatever has happened this week, happens most weeks to be fair, but this was our first back-to-back week with games, and I’m not saying that it’s been an easy week because there’s always something going on with all sorts of different players. But this is going to be a breeze in comparison to what’s coming around the corner when we get one, two, three, four, hopefully five games into the tournament.”

It’s perhaps also a nod of respect toward Samoa that Mack Hansen, Tadgh Beirne and Josh van der Flier have been retained from last week’s starting line-up, and that James Ryan, Peter O’Mahony, Ross Byrne and Garry Ringrose are among the replacements.

“They’ve got fantastic players and a bloody good coaching staff when you look at it,” said Farrell of Samoan head coach Seilala Mapusua, defence coach Tana Umaga, the Leinster duo of attack coach Andrew Goodman and video analyst Brian Colclough [as well as co-captain Michael Ala’alatoa], Irish refereeing adviser John Lacey, and lineout coach Tom Coventry.

“So, we know they’ll be organised. Being organised and having all the flair, the size, the power, the strength; them trying to impose their game on us is something that we need to manage and come out the other side of that and be ourselves and impose our game on them as well.

“So, I think we couldn’t wish for better really in regards to the next steps for us.”

IRELAND: Jimmy O’Brien (Leinster); Mack Hansen (Connacht), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster), Stuart McCloskey (Ulster), Keith Earls (Munster); Jack Crowley (Munster), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Tom Stewart (Ulster), Finlay Bealham (Connacht), Iain Henderson (Ulster, capt), Tadhg Beirne (Munster), Ryan Baird (Leinster), Josh van der Flier (Leinster), Caelan Doris (Leinster).

Replacements: Rob Herring (Ulster), Jeremy Loughman (Munster), Tom O’Toole (Ulster), James Ryan (Leinster), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Craig Casey (Munster), Ross Byrne (Leinster), Garry Ringrose (Leinster).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times