Ireland head coach Andy Farrell says he does not believe in change for change's sake

Dublin (AFP) - Ireland head coach Andy Farrell said on Monday he was not a believer in the four-year World Cup cycle and a radical overhaul of his squad would be damaging to their Six Nations title defence.

Farrell has reflected that attitude in naming 34-year-old flanker Peter O’Mahony as captain in the wake of the retirement of Johnny Sexton following Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final exit last October.

Sexton is one of several greats of the game who will not grace the Six Nations this year.

France’s Antoine Dupont is taking time out to seek Olympic glory in the sevens, while Dan Biggar has retired from the Wales setup and England’s Owen Farrell has taken time out for mental health reasons.

Only Italy’s Michele Lamaro remains of the captains from the Six Nations last year.

Farrell, who since the World Cup has been named World Coach of the year and then British and Irish Lions coach for the 2025 tour of Australia, said he wants to grow the squad but not refresh it with a radical overhaul.

“I want the squad to grow but you do not achieve that by cutting the legs off and go again,” said Farrell at the Six Nations launch in Dublin.

“Competing for places is extremely important but I do not buy into the four-year cycle post World Cup as others do.”

Ireland perhaps face the toughest challenge to their hopes of repeating a Grand Slam in the first match against 2022 champions France in Marseille on February 2.

Even without Dupont and the disappointment of bowing out of the World Cup they hosted in the quarter-finals to eventual champions South Africa France head coach Fabien Galthie believes the team will grow from that.

“It is like going back to school, just as is every Six Nations, but we are not starting from scratch,” said Galthie.

For Alldritt – who replaced Dupont as captain – the scars of the Springboks defeat have been dealt with.

“South Africa was tough but we have digested it and analysed it and we will go forward from it,” said Alldritt.

Steve Borthwick (C) is going into his second Six Nations as England coach

Farrell’s former Saracens teammate Steve Borthwick enters his second Six Nations as England coach on the back of a surprising third-place finish in the World Cup.

Borthwick thinks having more experience in the head coach role – he was named in December 2022 following the sacking of Eddie Jones – will see an improvement on recent disappointing Six Nations campaigns.

“I want us to hit the ground running, which we have not done in the past few years,” he said.

- ‘Passion and fire’ -

Borthwick’s Wales counterpart Warren Gatland dismisses the “doom and gloom” surrounding the sport in the country and says if the Welsh get a couple of wins under their belt they become “incredibly hard to beat”.

“You write us off at your peril,” said the 60-year-old New Zealander.

Gatland has in contrast to Farrell brought in five uncapped players but he says this is not a sign of disrespecting the tournament.

“I am definitely thinking about the future,” he said.

“The Six Nations is such an important competition for us but it is also a question of how do I give youngsters the experience.

“We have an average age of 25 which is really young.

“They will learn from it and develop from it.”

Gatland has many campaigns under his belt but for Italy’s Gonzalo Quesada it will be his first as a head coach.

The 49-year-old former fly-half said he respected a lot of the work his predecessor Kieran Crowley had done, but he felt the team was lacking Latin passion.

“I want a bit more passion and fire injected. I want to make the Latin side of Italian rugby stronger.”

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend badly needs a good Six Nations after a disappointing first-round exit in the World Cup.

As a first step he has replaced Jamie Ritchie as skipper with a joint captaincy of playmaker Finn Russell and backrow forward Rory Darge.

Townsend said Darge and Russell complemented each other.

“They are key players in the squad and are leaders in different ways and people we think very highly of,” said Townsend.

“They will complement each other very well with Finn an experienced campaigner who has led the offence for many years and Rory is a great leader of defence.

“We hope this will add extra layers to their performances.”