Andy Farrell believes Johnny Sexton will benefit from not being involved in Ireland’s summer Tests and hopes his captain will return from the rest with the “fire burning rapidly”.
Veteran fly-half Sexton, who was overlooked for the British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa, has also been left out of Farrell’s experimental Irish squad for upcoming games against Japan and the United States.
Experienced duo Cian Healy and Keith Earls have also been given a break from international duty, while Leinster lock James Ryan will skipper a 37-man group containing 11 uncapped players.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) June 14, 2021
Sexton turns 36 next month and will now have to wait until at least the autumn to claim a 100th cap for his country.
“There’s a plan in place to benefit the player – not just to benefit us as a squad – in the short term and the long term,” said head coach Farrell.
“The older you get, the more you’ve got to look after yourself and be really stringent in your pre-season and some of these boys have not had a pre-season for a long time.
“When you speak to them, of course the first thing that they say is ‘I want to play’ but they understand the method.
“Their competitive nature won’t totally agree with that.
“But for them to have a proper rest and a proper pre-season where they can make gains with their bodies and come back into the start of next season with the fire burning rapidly is going to benefit us all in the long run.”
Leinster man Sexton made his 99th international appearance in March’s Guinness Six Nations win over England.
Ireland return to action on Saturday, July 3 against Japan at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin before hosting the United States at the same venue a week later.
The second of those fixtures comes a fortnight before the Lions begin their three-Test series against the Springboks.
Farrell had previously been touted as a potential member of Warren Gatland’s backroom staff for that tour.
He remains open to the idea but feels the Lions already have sufficient strength in the coaching department.
“I’ve spoken to Warren a couple of times. I’m more than happy to help out because it’s an unbelievable honour to be involved in the Lions,” said the 46-year-old Farrell.
“Where it stands at this moment in time is that Warren has left the squad open and wants to see how the workload goes in the first week of the camps.
“If he needs help in and around all of that then I am happy to help but the experience that they have got there within the coaching staff is top class, so I’m sure they will be fine.”
Farrell’s substantial uncapped contingent is comprised of Munster pair Gavin Coombes and Fineen Wycherley, Leinster trio Harry Byrne, Peter Dooley and Ross Molony, Ulster players Robert Baloucoune, Tom O’Toole and Nick Timoney, plus Connacht threesome Caolin Blade, Tom Daly and Paul Boyle.
He has a host of key men unavailable due to Lions involvement.
Forwards Tadhg Beirne, Tadhg Furlong, Jack Conan and Iain Henderson have been picked by Gatland, along with backs Conor Murray, Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw.
Prop Andrew Porter was also selected before his summer was ruined by a toe injury.
Hooker Ronan Kelleher is currently training with the Lions but is not part of the touring party and has therefore been chosen by Farrell.
Stand-in Ireland skipper Ryan, who has previously led the side in Sexton’s absence, was among those left disappointed by Gatland, a decision which came as a shock to Farrell.
“I was surprised. I think he’s a class player; he’s bordering on world-class in my opinion,” Farrell said of Ryan’s Lions snub.
“James knows that there is room to improve his game and one of those elements to improve is his leadership role.
“He’s come on leaps and bounds and we’ve invested in James a couple of times in that role.
“I think his form since not getting selected for the Lions has been outstanding; some of his attack work has been top class, so he’s taking responsibility.”
Fit-again trio Caelan Doris, Joey Carbery and Will Addison are among those recalled by Farrell.
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) June 14, 2021
Fly-half Carbery has not played at Test level since the 2019 World Cup due to a persistent ankle problem and will compete for the number 10 jersey vacated by Sexton with Ulster’s Billy Burns and uncapped Leinster rookie Byrne.
“Obviously Joey has been out of the system for quite some time,” said Farrell.
“You don’t get many windows like this to be able to give people time and we all know at international level we need to find out – especially in the half-back positions – whether a player can come in and run the ship straight from the word go.”