Andy Farrell has challenged his Ireland players in Guinness PRO14 action this weekend to play themselves into contention for places against England when the Six Nations campaign resumes at Twickenham in nine days.
With the championship on hiatus this weekend between rounds two and three, the Ireland head coach retained just 23 players for a 36-hour training camp in Cork which concluded this afternoon.
The narrowed-down squad wrapped the camp up with an unscheduled training session on the all-weather 4G surface at Musgrave Park following the postponement of a planned open training session in front of 3,500 supporters after torrential rain overnight made the grass pitch at Cork Institute of Technology unplayable.
The 13 players released from the squad after the bonus-point win over Wales last Saturday will feature for their provinces this weekend and Farrell knows exactly what he wants to see from them as he ponders selection for the trip to Twickenham on Sunday, February 23.
“Hopefully, a vibrant bunch, who are going to put their hand up and make us take note,” the head coach said this afternoon. “We’ll be watching this weekend.
“As we’ve said along, competition for places is key for us. Obviously, we’ll make the right call for the team along the way.
“We’re interested to see how the provincial rugby goes this weekend in general.”
While recognising Ireland need to be much more clinical in converting scoring opportunities into tries against England than they had been in their opening home victories over Scotland and Wales, Farrell also added the squad would travel to London in good spirits and that he was “as confident as you can be going to Twickenham”
Farrell said: “We know the task in hand. We know what awaits you when you get there.
“We know that England are pretty proud to play at home like we are to play at the Aviva. We feel like we’re in a decent place.
“We’re looking forward to next week. We’ve had a good couple of days here. I’m sure the lads are relishing coming into camp on Monday night, looking for a big week ahead. We’ll need to be like that.”
Farrell described the camp in Cork as an “interesting couple of days” but regretted the cancellation of the open training session at CIT.
“We trained yesterday and the pitch was soft. It was good, a decent session. The groundsmen had done as much as they could, but the rain was torrential last night. We got up early this morning and it wasn’t fit for purpose.
“We’re gutted… the kids missed out. We came down to Cork to connect with the Cork people and the 3,500 people that were gonna come and see us train – we could have connected and signed autographs at the end of the session. There was none of that because of the safety regulations.
“We had a duty of care duty to the players – the Under-20s and our lads – we ended up with a decent session in the end. We’re happy with that but gutted for the people of Cork.”