Following the quarter-final defeat to Argentina in the Rugby World Cup in 2015, then head coach Joe Schmidt set about building depth in his squad.

The brutal cost of victory over France, which through injury and suspension, left Ireland down a number of key figures for the clash against the Pumas.

Schmidt set about fixing that issue for the subsequent World Cup two years ago. Things didn't quite work out but the general feeling was that the back-ups would need to be well versed and well tested to deal with the pressure should they be thrust into the fray.

But that’s too far down the road for Ireland head coach Andy Farrell to think about now.

In a week where elder statesman Johnny Sexton, 35, signed a one-year IRFU deal, Farrell was asked specifically when he had to consider if the out-half was going to be around for France 2023 and how that plays into his '10’ selections in the coming seasons.

"It only has to be about form and it always has been," he said.

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"If Johnny can stay healthy and fit and keep fighting on all fronts and keep staking a claim to warrant being number one then he's doing something superbly well.

"We’ve obviously got to be aware of the different scenarios along the way, that we keep talking and keep being honest about each other and making sure that we put the team first.

"That’s how it always has been and that’s how it will stay." 

On the theory about needing 20 or 30 caps to survive in the heat of a crucial World Cup tie, he said: "I’m not that rigid" and appeared to reference 2019 champions South Africa, who underwent a period of extensive changes in the year prior to lifting the trophy.

"I like guys who are going to add to the team because they are in form and confident and able to.


Farrell insists Irish rugby comes first but Lions role not ruled out


"That’s to the forefront of my mind. There’s a couple of teams at the last World Cup that made big changes a year out and it paid dividends." 

Farrell had earlier called Sexton and Peter O'Mahony, who also signed a new deal this week, "two very important pieces of our jigsaw going forward, for all sorts of reason and they are delighted to get their contracts over the line and settle their futures and we are even more so delighted for them."

The former Wigan rugby league star has retained a 23-man squad for a mini-training camp yesterday and today and has released 13 panel members, including Munster scrum-half Craig Casey who made his Ireland debut against Italy, back to the provinces for this weekend’s Guinness Pro14 derbies. 

Asked what message he gave to those hoping to force their way into his plans for the Scotland game on Sunday week.

"What they did last time," he replied.

"Last time they got a chance to put their best foot forward. I always love to see the reaction of a player either during camp or just after camp when they go back to their provinces to see how they perform.

"I think it’s a real judge of character to go back and settle back into a different way of playing, new calls etc. I suppose they know them like the back of their hand anyway. That should be seamless.

"As regards being at your best when you are bouncing between two camps I think it shows a strong character that they can perform well for their provinces."

Follow Munster v Connacht (7.35pm, Friday) and Ulster v Leinster (7.35pm, Saturday) via our live blogs on RTE.ie and the RTÉ News app or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1 Extra and RTÉ Radio 1.

Follow Scotland v Ireland (kick-off 3pm, Sunday 14 March) via our live blog on RTE.ie and the RTÉ News app or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1's Sunday Sport. Highlights on Against the Head on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.