Ireland players bite back at talk they lack a ‘bit of dog’

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By Brendan O’Brien

Brian O’Driscoll may feel that the current Ireland team lacks ‘a bit of dog’ but Andy Farrell’s players have, predictably enough, bitten back at that.

The assertion that the national team’s pack could do with a bit of a harsher edge has been currency ever since Dan Leavy suffered a major long-term injury that sidelined him for 2019 and O’Driscoll appears to have has been mulling over this for some time.

The former captain has lamented the absence of a Sean O’Brien or a Dan Leamy in the pack, someone who can impose himself without treading too far over the line and offer an aggression, and even a nastiness, that sets a certain type of tone.

Farrell himself has spoken this week of a desire to see a dominant and aggressive Irish pack and his newly installed skipper Jonathan Sexton certainly sees that as a must-have as the side looks to leave a demoralising World Cup campaign in their wake.

“Yeah, that’s the game isn’t it? Obviously the basics, the fundamentals of the game, never change and you need to have that physicality and sort of aggressive mindset,” said Sexton ahead of Saturday’s championship opener against Scotland. “We need to bring that at the weekend.

“I know a lot has been made about ‘do we have a dog’ in the team and stuff like that but in the modern game you just need guys who are willing to work hard. You have to have that intent that you spoke about but hopefully we’ll show a little bit of that at the weekend.”

Ireland players bite back at talk they lack a 'bit of dog'

Farrell has had to mix things up front with the retirement of Rory Best and injuries in the back row to the likes of Leavy and Jack Conan so there are opportunities from the off this time for Rob Herring at hooker and Caelan Doris at No.8.

Herring has won eight caps over the course of four seasons but this will be his first Six Nations appearance and he wouldn’t, couldn’t, accept O’Driscoll’s assertion that this is a side lacking an element of edge when it comes to the crunch.

“I would disagree with that because I don’t really know what it is based on,” said the Ulster forward who will have Leinster tyro Ronan Kelleher acting as his understudy in the 23 at the weekend in Dublin.

“I don’t really know what he is seeing in our club games that makes him think that. Andy has picked a team and a squad that he feels can deliver on that aspect. We obviously have to go out there and do it but I would disagree because I can’t see what it is based on.”

As for Sexton, the skipper said there were “no setbacks to talk about” when asked for a fitness update. The out-half suffered a knee injury when playing for Leinster away to Northampton in mid-December and hasn’t played a game since.

Conor Murray will be his half-back partner after the Munster scrum-half beat off the claims of Ulster’s John Cooney for the No.9 jersey and Sexton claimed both men are ready to deliver top-drawer performances when called upon this week.

“Competition is what every good side relies on. I’ve seen it with Leinster especially. When you’ve got guys coming up, whether it’s behind you or with you, you’re fighting for one place, it spurs you on. Conor’s always been very self-driven from day one. He concentrates on himself. He’s looked sharp over the last ten days, like all the nines have.

“You feel for Luke (McGrath), he trained the house down last week and especially earlier this week, and he’s going home today. We’re very lucky to have the nines we do. Over the Christmas camp, we had Caolan Blade, Jamison Gibson Park, who have been in good form themselves. So we’re blessed to have the quality of numbers.

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