Ireland rugby head coach Andy Farrell has dismissed concerns about a lack of club action for some of his players going into the Guinness Six Nations.
Covid-related postponements at provincial level have hampered preparations for next weekend’s tournament opener against Wales.
Farrell believes a strong autumn campaign – during which the in-form Irish swept aside Japan, New Zealand and Argentina to stretch their winning run to eight games – proves his team can perform on the back of limited game time.
Here is the squad representing @IrishRugby at this year's #GuinnessSixNations 🍀 pic.twitter.com/MHu6t0OSa9
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 19, 2022
And, with wings James Lowe and Jacob Stockdale the only major absentees for the championship, the Englishman is content just to be relatively injury-free.
“If you asked me: ‘do you want most of your guys fit and raring to go and ready to play compared to, say, playing the last eight games and being injured?’, we’d rather everyone on board,” said Farrell.
“So it is what it is. We went through this in the autumn, didn’t we? Everyone was talking about our lack of game time.
“There are no excuses, you’ve just got to get on with it and we’ll be raring to go as a group.”
Settling in nicely! 🇵🇹#TeamOfUs | #IrishRugby pic.twitter.com/jiBgJAbiCk
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) January 28, 2022
Farrell’s 37-man squad are currently fine-tuning preparations for the tournament at a camp in Portugal.
Ahead of flying out, Ulster lock Iain Henderson – who has not played since sustaining an ankle issue on December 17 – was the only member of the travelling party not expected to immediately begin full training.
Captain Johnny Sexton also put a positive spin on potential rustiness within the group, while pointing out that the issue is not unique to Ireland.
“I think there are a lot of other countries in exactly the same position,” said the fly-half, who has made only one start for Leinster since Ireland’s autumn fixtures following injury and a coronavirus infection.
“And the good thing for us is we’re in a very similar position to November.
“That was my concern coming into November that we hadn’t played enough because normally when you come into November you’ve had two European games, which are obviously a higher quality and closer to international level.
“We didn’t have that in November but the way we trained and prepared allowed us to hit the ground running and, to have a competitive environment like we do here, training can be as tough as a game sometimes.
“Like Andy said, no excuses. We’ve done it before and you can look at it two ways: you can say you’re underdone or you can say you’re really fresh and raring to go.
“I think we’re in that bracket. We’ve had enough rugby, guys have been training hard, certainly in the environment I’ve been in.”