Andy Farrell’s verdict on ‘best in the world’ debate ahead of Ireland v Springboks series

David Skippers
Andy Farrell Ireland coach v England SN 2024 -Alamy.jpg

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell at Twickenham.

After guiding Ireland to their second successive Six Nations title, Andy Farrell has turned his focus to their upcoming matches against the world champion Springboks in South Africa.

The Boks and Ireland, who are the two leading teams in World Rugby’s official rankings, are set to face off in a highly anticipated two-Test series at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria and Kings Park Durban.

Debate over the world’s best

Much has been said about Ireland‘s impressive form during the Six Nations, with some pundits reckoning they are already the world’s best team. South Africans dispute that assertion following the Boks‘ back-to-back Rugby World Cup triumphs.

Ireland have won the last three encounters between the nations but have only beaten the world champions once on South African soil – at Newlands in Cape Town in 2016.

“It doesn’t get any more difficult, does it, or any more exciting than that,” Farrell said of the matches against the Boks. “All you want is an opportunity to put yourself out there against the best and South Africa are 100 per cent the best.

“Being able to go out there and test ourselves over there – we’ve managed to win one game over there before – will be great for our development going forward.”

Ireland have been in excellent form in recent years and have won 33 of their last 37 Tests stretching back to 2021. The only blemishes on their superb record are a Six Nations defeat to France in 2022, a couple of losses against New Zealand—including in the quarter-finals of last year’s World Cup—and their recent narrow 23-22 loss against England.

Ireland’s latest Six Nations triumph was achieved after the retirements of long-serving backline stars Johnny Sexton and Keith Earls, while they were also without the services of first-choice wing Mack Hansen, who missed the Championship due to injury.

Farrell, whose team will also face the All Blacks, Argentina, Fiji and Australia during the end-of-year Tests, wants Ireland to reach greater heights.

Springboks’ new defence coach to learn Afrikaans as ‘very personal’ Ireland Tests loom

“To be consistently at your best is probably impossible but that is what we’re going after,” said the 48-year-old.

“But when class players drop out of the squad, it’s always going to take time to build back up and if you can do that winning, or learning from the experiences like at Twickenham or whatever, then that’s all well and good.

“But the reality is that there’s plenty more in us and there has to be for what’s coming for the rest of the year.”

Jack Crowley, who has taken over from Sexton as the team’s first choice fly-half, and second-row Joe McCarthy are part of the new generation who are maintaining the team’s high standards.

Urged young duo to ignore the hype

Farrell has urged the young duo to ignore the hype surrounding their excellent performances during the Six Nations.

“Jack’s a realist,” said Farrell. “And do you know what? I’ve been hard on him.

“Jack will tell you that because it’s easy to read the press and get carried away that, ‘I’m doing it, and I am doing really well’.

“But we’ve kept his feet on the ground and Joe McCarthy as well because there has to be a realisation that’s not what we’re chasing.

“We’re chasing something better than that, and as long as we can continue to do that, we’ll continue to grow as a group.”

READ MORE: Six Nations Team of the Tournament: Ireland and Italy lead the way as one country misses out