Ireland head coach Andy Farrell says he wants his side to "embrace" the pressures that come with the Rugby World Cup cycle.

Two years out from the tournament, Farrell and his squad are preparing for the first of five blocks in the build-up to France 2023.

Earlier this week, captain Johnny Sexton said the tournament is "on the horizon" in the squad's preparations, something they wouldn't previously have mentioned so early in the four-year cycle.

This afternoon, Farrell backed up the comments of his captain, saying he wants his players to relish the pressure it brings.

"Like I said before, why can't we dare to dream?," he said at this afternoon's press conference.

"Why can't we? I'm sure that there's five or six or seven teams, it might be 10 teams that'll be in the same position by the World Cup but why don't we embrace the challenge and use that challenge to better our journey along the way? That's the message to the players, so let's get started on that."

Following their disappointing 2019 tournament in Japan, former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt (below) said he believed he and the team began preparing for the tournament too early, having turned his focus to it 12 months in advance.

And while Farrell's side are using the World Cup as motivation even earlier, he's confident that the short-term focus of his players won't be impacted, pointing to their hectic schedule this season which contains four Tests with New Zealand, as well as away trips to England and France.

"If you look at the challenges that we've got again this year, obviously I've just gone through the three campaigns, but at the same time we go to Twickenham, we go to Paris for two away games as well.

"They're all going to be opportunities for us to learn, and yes, along this journey there's going to be bumps, but that's great for our learning, our experiences, and our memory along the way to get there.

"The pressures of players desperately wanting to represent their country in a World Cup is how it should be, and I'm sure some fall by the wayside over the next two years but hopefully most of them will flourish."

The head coach was non-committal when asked about Robbie Henshaw's chances of being fit to face New Zealand on Saturday 13 November.

The Leinster centre (below) is currently rehabbing a foot injury with the Irish medical staff, with Farrell saying they will make a decision on his availability "as the weeks go by."

He also defended his decision to not select in-form Connacht out-half Jack Carty for the games against Japan, New Zealand and Argentina, adding that "selection isn't always about form."

Joey Carbery and Harry Byrne were both selected ahead of the 29-year-old in spite of mixed performances and injury (Byrne) recently, with Farrell saying he wanted to see more of the pair at Test level after they featured during the summer wins against Japan and USA.

"First of all I've spoken to Jack many a time and he's playing really well," Farrell said.

"I think his game's improved, I think he's embraced the challenge of captaincy, I think it's helped him the way that Connacht are playing as well, especially in attack. His game management has always been his strength.

"I think he's playing well, but this is an opportunity for us to find out about people as well in this window. I know that everyone thinks that's about selection and people playing but it's not. It's just being able to deal with the pressures.

"Some of the guys like Joey and Harry were involved during the summer. This had a different feel, the big boys are back, and there's quite a few of them. The intensity and the pressure that that delivers day-in and day-out is something that we need to find out, whether people are going to flourish in or not, and you've got to give people a chance.

"Selection isn't always about form. One guy plays well one week and then he doesn't play well the next week. You've got to try use selection of giving people the chance to grow as well within the environment," he said.

Meanwhile, Farrell also acknowledged that Simon Zebo's early season performances were the reason he returned to the Irish squad for the first time since 2017.

Having returned to Munster from Racing 92 this summer, Zebo was surprisingly left out of the 50-man mini-camp that assembled in September, before being included for the November Test matches.

"He hadn't even touched a ball under pressure in the summer so obviously needed to get back up and running again. The couple of games he's played for Munster, we've seen some touches of class.

"We all know that at international level it always pays to have someone like Simon's ability who can play in a couple of different positions."

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