Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has backed Craig Casey and Ross Byrne to deliver an accomplished performance in Saturday’s clash against Italy.
he half-back pair will make their first Six Nations starts in Rome this weekend, with Farrell fully confident in Casey and Byrne’s ability to keep Ireland on track for a Grand Slam by winning their third game on the bounce.
Although Johnny Sexton misses out, as he works his way back from a groin injury, the Ireland captain will travel with the squad, but Byrne was given an early heads up this week that he would be the main man running the show.
“He’s been great,” Farrell said of the Leinster out-half.
“He has earned the right to start, earned the right to run the team and transfer everything that we have seen in training to a performance that’s got authority and takes his team with him.”
It’s set to be an important afternoon for Byrne at Stadio Olimpico, as he links up Casey from the start for the first time, having previously seen out three games together.
“They have earned the right to start and from what we have seen so far, it’s only a few days to the game I know, but from what we have seen so far, it’s been a good start to the week,” Farrell continued.
“Preparation has been great and yeah, they seem ready for it.”
Farrell acknowledged that it would have been beneficial for the rookie half-backs to have run proceedings in training all week.
“It is, but in reality, we train 15 on 15 the whole time,” the Ireland boss maintained.
“They are doing the same thing for the last four weeks, so there is a reason why they have trained so well this week, it’s because of that probably.”
Having been recalled to the squad earlier this week, Joey Carbery will travel to Italy as a non-playing reserve, with Farrell pleased with how the Munster out-half has handled the setback of being dropped.
Carbery’s provincial team-mate Jack Crowley is on the bench, with Carbery on standby should either he or Byrne drop out late in the day.
“He’s been great, he’s a tremendous professional anyway, which is exactly what you’d expect of Joey when he came in,” Farrell said of Carbery.
“Get across his stuff straight away, making sure he’s across his own job and then fitting into the team stuff with us travelling to Italy as well.
“We think he’s a great player. Ross and Jack we wanted to have a look at and keep developing. Ross had earned the right and there is a bit of feedback to Joey.
“Him coming back into camp, we get to have the chat again about his reflection about the feedback etc and where is he now with all that. He gets to back that up with the conversations and him back into the environment and lets everyone know that the competition keeps rolling on.”
Despite the changes, some of which were injury-enforced while others were selection calls, Farrell believes this Ireland team can carry on the momentum that has been built up over the first two rounds.
“Well, we have been together for a good few weeks now, so people are certainly up to speed,” he added.
“People wouldn’t have been selected if they weren’t in the right place.
“So, we’re not just turning things around for the sake of it, we are turning things around because we think it’s a strong side for us going forward, for this game and for the future as well.
“I don’t think there are that many changes, to be fair. I mean, you look at the bench, it’s people who have come on and earned the right to get a start spot because of the performances that they’ve had.
“Again, the lads that have come in for the first time in this competition have been with us for four weeks. So, the reality is, this is our third game of the competition and we expect it to be our best performance of the competition. That’s how it should be and that’s what we are aiming for.”
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