Andy Farrell focused on pitch and not online as Ireland face Six Nations decider

The head coach hopes that online abuse will one day stop but is not expecting rapid change.

Andy Farrell could guide Ireland to back-to-back titles
Andy Farrell Andy Farrell could guide Ireland to back-to-back titles (Brian Lawless/PA)

Andy Farrell says Ireland have “battened down the hatches” in their quest to retain the Guinness Six Nations title after some players received online abuse in the wake of their last-gasp loss to England.

Ireland’s pursuit of successive Grand Slams ended following Marcus Smith’s dramatic drop goal in last weekend’s 23-22 Guinness Six Nations defeat at Twickenham.

Members of Farrell’s squad, including veteran scrum-half Conor Murray, were subsequently targeted on social media for their performances in south-west London.

Farrell last year branded the “circus” surrounding his son Owen “absolutely disgusting” before the England captain decided to take a break from international rugby to prioritise his mental health.

The Ireland head coach, whose side host Scotland in a championship title decider on Saturday, seemed resigned to players having to deal with online hate but expressed hope the situation will change.

“Everyone would be lying if they said they hadn’t (been aware of it),” said Farrell.

“But that’s been the way of the world for some time now, hasn’t it, really, in regards to social media etc?

“We’ve battened down the hatches as far as our concentration on what we need to do to improve our performance and make sure that we’re the best of ourselves.

“And come Tuesday afternoon after the training session and a big session on Wednesday as well, it seems to be that the focus is right where it should be.”

Conor Murray was one of those targeted
Conor Murray Conor Murray was one of those targeted (Brian Lawless/PA)

Murray was vilified for kicking away possession in the closing minutes as Ireland attempted to protect a 22-20 lead, while captain Peter O’Mahony was criticised following a costly second-half yellow card.

Former Ireland international Andrew Conway described the negativity and disrespect aimed at players following his country’s second defeat in 22 games as “staggering”.

“It’s one loss and the bounce of a ball, an interpretation here and there,” said Farrell.

“But that’s the way of the world, you’ve got to roll with the punches as far as that’s concerned because we’ve all talked about it, we’ve all discussed it at length, certainly in this room (referring to Owen Farrell).

“It’s not for changing any time soon. Hopefully it will do though.”

Calvin Nash keeps his place
Calvin Nash Calvin Nash keeps his place (Brian Lawless/PA)

Farrell has named an unchanged starting XV to face the Scots in Dublin, including retaining Calvin Nash on the right wing.

The 26-year-old Munster player was forced off by a head injury inside five minutes against England following a heavy collision with Tommy Freeman.

Farrell insisted he trusts the medical experts as he moved to allay fears about the selection of Nash.

“If you’re in the inner circle and you understand the process that these players have to go through now, you would thoroughly back that process,” he said.

“One, he has gone through it with flying colours and he never looked like failing for one second. And two, the process, I think is very sound.

“He passed the three stages that he had to go (through). He trained fully yesterday without doing contact within the session, but had to do contact after the session.

“(He) passed that with flying colours, no problem whatsoever. He had to see an independent doctor – if it’s a seven-day turnaround, you have to do that, and he passed that with flying colours as well.

“You trust the experts on this.”

Farrell has made two alterations on his bench.

The Englishman has scrapped the six-two split of forwards and backs by selecting centre Garry Ringrose ahead of lock Iain Henderson, while Ciaran Frawley, who is unavailable due to a head knock sustained after coming on for Nash last time out, is replaced by fly-half Harry Byrne.