Rugby

Andy Farrell challenges Test rookie Ciaran Frawley to deputise with distinction

The 26-year-old will start in place of the injured Hugo Keenan for Ireland against Wales.

Leinster’s Ciaran Frawley kicks a penalty during the Investec Champions Cup match at the RDS Arena, Dublin. Picture date: Saturday December 16, 2023.
Leinster v Sale Sharks – Investec Champions Cup – RDS Arena Leinster’s Ciaran Frawley kicks a penalty during the Investec Champions Cup match at the RDS Arena, Dublin. Picture date: Saturday December 16, 2023. (Brian Lawless/PA)

Andy Farrell has challenged Test rookie Ciaran Frawley to “prove a point” after handing him a long-awaited full Ireland debut in place of the injured Hugo Keenan.

Versatile Leinster back Frawley received his first call-up in the autumn of 2021 but has so far been restricted to 44 minutes of international action across two appearances from the bench.

The 26-year-old will start Saturday afternoon’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Wales at full-back after Keenan sustained a knee issue in the 36-0 round-two win over Italy.

Head coach Farrell is hopeful his first-choice number 15 will be fit to face England on March 9 but backed Frawley to deputise with distinction against Warren Gatland’s side in Dublin.

“The versatility that Frawls has got has always probably earmarked him for a bench spot but he’s always been waiting for this chance,” said Farrell.

“Hugo doesn’t get injured too much, does he?

“His skillset is fantastic and it’s a big week for him so it will be a test of his temperament but he’s playing in a good side and I’m sure he’ll take his chance.

Injured full-back Hugo Keenan has been virtually ever-present for Ireland during the past three years
Injured full-back Hugo Keenan has been virtually ever-present for Ireland during the past three years Injured full-back Hugo Keenan has been virtually ever-present for Ireland during the past three years (Brian Lawless/PA)

“He’s trained there (at full-back) for us a lot. It’s very natural for him to fill that position and he deserves his chance.

“He’s had an appetite to want to get to this type of position so now it’s come around I’m sure it’s a big moment for him and his family.

“But it’s all about performing. It’s all about taking your chance. All your need is a chance. It’s up to the individuals to go and take that and prove a point.”

Frawley aside, Farrell has reverted to the starting XV which began the impressive 38-17 victory over France on the opening night of the tournament.

Captain Peter O’Mahony, prop Tadhg Furlong and centre Bundee Aki return from injuries, while lock Tadhg Beirne, scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and flanker Josh Van Der Flier are also recalled following the routine success over the Azzurri on February 11.

Uncapped prop Oli Jager has been included on a bench which has a six-two split of forwards and backs.

The 28-year-old’s opportunity at Test level comes after he left New Zealand club Crusaders to join Munster late last year.

“It’s always a pleasure to give someone their debut,” said Farrell. “I think this is a special one because it’s a special story in Oli.

“When we was over in New Zealand (in the summer of 2022), I met him about his plans and where that sat but he was content enough because he was building a really nice life for himself over there and doing unbelievably well for the Crusaders.

“But he showed his ambition to come back to Ireland and make a claim for a spot playing for his country.

“We’ve had him earmarked for a while but watching him start his career in Ireland at Munster, we’ve been nothing but impressed.”

Ireland are seeking an 18th successive home win to keep themselves on course for back-to-back Grand Slam titles.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is preparing for a “scrap” against Wales
Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is preparing for a Ireland head coach Andy Farrell is preparing for a “scrap” against Wales (Brian Lawless/PA)

Opponents Wales have not won a Six Nations fixture in Dublin since 2012.

“Playing against Wales, well you know it’s always going to be a scrap,” said Farrell.

“Wales against Ireland, it probably means a little bit more to them, I’ve been told (that) over the years. We’re aware of that.”