By Ed Elliot, PA, Dublin
Andy Farrell insists the major blow of losing influential hooker Dan Sheehan ahead of a mouth-watering Guinness Six Nations showdown with France will benefit Ireland going into this year’s World Cup.
The in-form Sheehan will be a significant absentee for Saturday’s crunch clash with the reigning Grand Slam champions in Dublin after a hamstring injury, handing an opportunity to Ulster’s Rob Herring.
The 24-year-old has played a starring role in his country’s elevation to the top of the world rankings, starting nine of 10 Tests since coming off the bench against Les Bleus in Paris last year.
🤕 Wishing Dan a speedy recovery!#TeamOfUs | #GuinnessSixNations
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) February 9, 2023
Former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll this week hailed Leinster man Sheehan as possibly the best number two in world rugby.
While head coach Farrell would have preferred to name an unchanged line-up, he believes becoming accustomed to last-minute disruption will stand his squad in good stead ahead of a shot at winning rugby’s ultimate prize in the autumn.
“It’s not nice for Dan,” said Farrell. “Obviously he’s a fantastic player at the top of his form, isn’t he?
“Anyone would miss a player in that type of form. But at the same time, it’s great in the sense that this is exactly what’s going to happen down the track in the World Cup.
“International rugby is only going to get bigger and better, so therefore it’s always going to be about the squad.
“When you get to the World Cup, you’ve a smaller squad, there’s a 12-day turnaround there as far as concussion is concerned, so you’re always going to be numbers down and you’ve got to be able to roll with the punches.
“We’re happy with how our squad is developing, pushing each other, competing against each other.
“Rob has always added to our performance, let’s put it that way, and I also think he can do a good job in this type of game for us.”
Herring’s promotion in place of the stricken Sheehan is the only alteration to the starting XV which began last weekend’s crushing 34-10 win over Wales, with the fit-again Ronan Kelleher added to the bench.
Ireland dealt with an even later change in Cardiff after scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park was ruled out on the day of the game to be replaced by Conor Murray.
In more positive news for the Irish, Murray is available to continue his half-back partnership with skipper Johnny Sexton.
The British and Irish Lion emerged as a potential doubt on Wednesday evening but has been selected, with Farrell opting against providing specific details about the issue due to “personal reasons”.
France are the only major nation yet to be beaten by Farrell’s Ireland.
The Englishman, who has suffered three successive defeat to Les Bleus, says home advantage must “be a weapon” in order to end the recent hoodoo.
“They’re definitely going to be up for it,” he said of the supporters. “Everyone is looking forward to this.
“We’ve had half a day off today, I’ve been walking around Sandymount (a suburb of Dublin) and everyone is pumped.
“I wish I was going to the game with my mates or my family or kids because this is the type of game that everyone wants to be part of.
“Home advantage has to be a weapon for us. We’ve all got a responsibility for that.”